08/18/2006, 00.00
CHINA
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State Council punishes Inner Mongolia authorities: too autonomous

Local authorities built a power plant without authorization. The national press has given great prominence to what is being considered as a warning for all officials. Experts say only a free press can guarantee effective monitoring of the activities of local authorities.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – The State Council has announced it will punish the highest ranking government officials of the government and Party of Inner Mongolia for pressing ahead with the construction of an important power plant without authorization and ignoring central government directives. The news, revealed on 16 August, is held to be a warning to all local authorities that are increasingly following policies independently of Beijing.

The official Xinhua news agency said the government of Inner Mongolia set up a

coal-fired power plant costing 2.89 billion yuan with a productive capacity of 8.6 gigawatts without regular approval. It was further accused of resorting to illegal use of land, filing false claims and breaching safety regulations, leading to the death of six workers and wounding of eight in an accident in July last year.

The Council decision, communicated after a session chaired by the President, Wen Jiabao, is an admonition to local authorities not to ignore orders from Beijing to scale back on investments to slow down economic growth.

In true Communist style, sanctions against the "guilty" are above all disciplinary in nature. The Ministry of Supervision ordered party officials, Huercha and Huang Alatengbielige to write self-criticism letters. Ma Dacheng, the deputy general manager of the plant, was given a demerit and Wang Dong, its general manager and party chief, was demoted. Both received a warning.

A demerit and a warning were also handed down to Hao Zhiqiang, the plant's general manager and chairman and director of the electricity bureau in Ulanqab, and to Zhao Fengshan, general manager and deputy party chief of Inner Mongolia.

The most serious punishments were meted out to Chen Hongjun and Guo Lei, contractors involved in the building of the plant: they will be prosecuted for not observing safety norms, causing the accident that killed the workers.

The chairman of Inner Mongolia, Yang Jing , and his two deputies, Yue Fuhong and Zhao Shuanglian , must write self-criticism letters, and a letter criticizing the entire local government apparatus has already been circulated.

It is the first time Beijing has publicly shamed the officials of a provincial government for their failure to heed national measures designed to slow the economy. Xinhua said the move was intended to create a precedent and as a warning to respect the central government's macroeconomic policies.

But many experts doubt it will stop the activities of local governments that are increasingly looking to the rapid development of their own economies.

Peking University law school professor, He Weifang, said: "There is great gap between the central and local governments, but Beijing just gives orders and never tries to understand the core reasons why local officials fail to implement policies." In immense China, "without an efficient supervision mechanism like freedom of press on the mainland to supervise local officials' actions, any orders and policies are just hollow words." (PB)

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