China targets ‘perfunctory’ officials in fight against pollution
Fifty-eight people detained and 641 firms fined a combined US$8.9 million in first half of June, environment ministry says
China is cracking down on officials who engage in perfunctory, or even fraudulent, environmental protection work as it bids to force local authorities to go the extra mile to fight pollution, the environment ministry said in notices issued this week.
Inspectors have been ordered to look out for examples of “perfunctory”, “superficial” or “fraudulent” environmental rectifications, and will tackle bureaucratic box-ticking and actions that pursue form instead of substance.
China’s four-year campaign to reduce pollution has become a test of political loyalty for local officials, with President Xi Jinping vowing last month to use the full might of the Communist Party to clean up the country’s soil, sky and rivers.
Inspectors have been combing the country in the past three weeks to see how authorities in China’s 31 provinces and regions have handled thousands of environmental violations uncovered during a central government probe launched in 2015.
The Ministry of Ecology and Environment said 641 firms were fined a combined 58 million yuan (US$8.9 million) in the first half of this month for failing to properly rectify violations, with 58 people detained. A second round of inspections is under way.
In one example of the kind of violation uncovered, the ministry said on Thursday that the city of Qujing in southwest China’s Yunnan province had failed to implement plans to treat and dispose of 328,000 tonnes of heavy metal residue produced by the Yunnan Luoping Zinc and Electricity Corp. The waste has contaminated upper reaches of the Pearl River.
Yunnan Luoping did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but vowed in a Thursday stock exchange filing to speed up its rectification work.
The ministry also accused authorities across China of fraudulently distorting pollution data, responding too slowly to pollution complaints and taking damaging “short cuts” to try to resolve problems.
In a separate development, the environmental protection bureau in the southwestern city of Zigong has been forced to apologise after insulting a resident who complained about dust pollution at a construction site, the official China Daily reported on Friday.
The resident asked the bureau through the social media application WeChat to take action at the site next to a high school in Zigong, known as China’s “salt city”.
“Nobody would consider you dumb if you did not speak,” the bureau said in an automatic response to the complaint.
The bureau blamed an “intelligent robot” for the reply and promised to tackle the dust problem. The automatic response function on the bureau’s WeChat account has also been switched off, the news report said.
An almost identical incident happened in eastern China’s Anhui province last month.
China has been encouraging citizens to get involved in the fight against pollution, urging them to report any violations to the authorities via apps like WeChat.
More than 618,000 tip-offs related to pollution were submitted to environmental bureaus last year, more than double the rate in 2016, according to figures published by the environment ministry last month.