It’s official, schools that collapsed on students in Sichuan were shoddily built
For the first time a Chinese government commission of inquiry acknowledges the use of substandard materials and bad designs in school construction, thus confirming what parents have said all along. The commission does not however explain why they collapsed. In Yunnan officials are punished for “mishandling” public protests by farmers, who have not yet received justice.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A Chinese government commission said that substandard construction materials and bad designs of school buildings in Sichuan were to blame for the death of about 7,000 students and teachers in the 12 May earthquake. Expert geologist and commission chairman Ma Zongjin admitted that shoddy materials and fatal design flaws contributed to the collapse of more than 1,000 schools in the disaster.

“In recent years we have built schools at a fast pace, and there could be construction [quality] problems,” Mr Ma, said yesterday. “Structures of those schools may not be sound, and the materials used may not be strong enough.”

Ultimately the lack of reinforcing columns to support large classrooms was behind the schools' vulnerability.

This is the first official admission. Hitherto the authorities had blamed the 7.9 quake for the high number of casualties.

Soon after the quake parents of students killed in the disaster spoke of shoddy construction pointing to the fact many schools collapsed whilst buildings around them were still standing. In fact many schools fell on top of students as they fled, indicating that if they had lasted a bit longer many of them could have been saved.

However, for a long time local authorities tried to sweep protests under the carpet, giving cash compensation on the condition parents stop protesting. And in many affected towns and cities local authorities were quick at removing all the debris from collapsed schools claiming safety reasons but in fact trying to remove evidence that might be used in a public inquiry.

Grieving parents have also complained that corrupt officials embezzled school construction money forcing builders to cut corners.

So far the government has not charged anyone in connection with the shoddy construction and still insists that it cannot provide any official death toll for students even though there is no hope to find any of the 18,000 still missing, on top of the 69,000 officially killed.

Parents said that they had already complained about the shoddy construction of many schools. Later inspections though found the same buildings “safe”.

In the meantime Yunnan provincial Communist Party leaders disciplined most senior officials in the city of Puer for mishandling a disagreement between local rubber farmers and their buyers, which turned into violent riots.

At first the rubber farmers tried to petition the authorities, but it soon turned into a violent confrontation when the local government called in police on 19 July.

Forty-one policemen were injured and eight police vehicles set on fire. At least 15 villagers were wounded and police shot dead two farmers.

Hu Wenbin, the former party secretary of Menglian county, was removed from all party positions, blamed for the riots and for using a luxury jeep provided to him by the buyers.

Then Mayor Shen Peiping and Puer Party Secretary Gao Xusheng were also disciplined, each having to submit a written statement of self-criticism to the party.

What had started out as an inquiry into the mishandling of the riots has now moved to the mishandling of the dispute.