07/07/2008, 00.00
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Children killed by Party corruption, more than by the earthquake

Local officials embezzled more than 85% of the funds destined for school construction. Construction companies, forced to work for much less money than expected, "saved" on materials. The results of an initial investigation.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Corrupt officials embezzled more than 85% of the funds destined for school construction in Sichuan, including for the schools that collapsed like "tofu", crushing more than 9,000 students and professors. This is the result of the initial investigations of the National Audit Office, which yesterday explained that in 46 counties, out of 54 investigated, about 115 million yuan (11.5 million euros) destined for maintenance were misappropriated.

The office adds that similar "misappropriations" are not rare in school construction in rural areas, and speaks of 1.26 million yuan spent on cars for officials. Only 1.8% of the funds earmarked (918 million yuan, only 92 million euros) were definitely used for building maintenance.

Even if funds for education have been raised by the government from 53.6 billion to 156 billion yuan over the past three years, the report says that in 29 of the 54 counties, officials appropriated at least 300 million yuan from the commissioned projects, forcing the construction companies to operate at only 55% of the projected budget.

The earthquake on May 12 led to the collapse of more than 7,000 classrooms, while in many cases the surrounding buildings remained standing. The parents of the students immediately denounced the poor construction of the schools and called for investigations. The local authorities have sought to prevent these, while Beijing has promised maximum severity.

Li Shuisha, a researcher for the China National Institute for Educational Research, explains to the South China Morning Post that "rural primary and high schools have no decision-making power and can't charge for compulsory education. Their coffers are almost empty after the money is misappropriated by regional authorities". The construction companies are paid little and must limit their costs, in part by saving on materials.

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