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43 punished for quake relief frauds
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Twelve officials have been sacked and 31 punished for misappropriating earthquake relief funds and materials, the country's top discipline watchdog said on Monday.

Most of the sacked officials were serious offenders at the grassroots level and directly responsible for distribution of relief, Ma Wen, Minister of Supervision, said.

But she did not say what sort of punishment the others were given.

The quake that rocked Sichuan province (and parts of Gansu and Shaanxi) on May 12 had claimed 69,181 lives till noon on Monday.

The government has received 1,178 public complaints (till June 20) against official misdeeds, said Ma, who is also the head of the National Bureau of Corruption Prevention (NBCP).

"Of these, 1,007 cases have been probed and resolved," she told a press conference organized by the State Council Information Office.

A vast majority of the complaints were against improper distribution of tents and food, with most of the others related to slow or inefficient official response.

Ma said a supervision and inspection network on relief distribution has been set up, both at the central and local government levels, with the help of the supervision, finance and civil affairs ministries and the audit office.

The central audit office has mobilized more than 10,000 auditors from across the country to scrutinize how the about 29-billion-yuan ($4.2 billion) relief funds are being handled in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi, the country's top auditor, Liu Jiayi, said.

Cumulative relief funds, have, however, crossed 100 billion yuan, 52.4 billion of which has come from social donation, 49.6 billion from the central government and 4.7 billion from local budgets.

Except for some minor glitches and a few officials' wrongdoings, the distribution of quake relief has been smooth, he said. Wrongdoings include some officials' exaggerated lists of losses suffered in their areas.

Liu's office is pursuing more than 100 clues against officials who may have misappropriated relief funds or materials.

"This is the first time (in more than three decades) that such a big tragedy has struck the country so the urgency and heavy responsibility of ensuring transparent and proper relief distribution poses a great challenge we have relatively less experience," Ma said.

Her ministry has already released an 11-item regulation on supervision of relief distribution, and punishment for misappropriation and violation of laws and Party discipline. The regulation will be maintained for as long as reconstruction continues.

Ma urged government bureaus and State-funded agencies at all levels to cut their expenditures by stopping the use of public funds for unnecessary travels and dinners. The money so saved can be used on reconstruction in the quake-hit areas.

The central treasury has vowed to allot another 70 billion yuan as reconstruction reserve, to be used over the next few years, Vice-Minister of Finance Liao Xiaojun said.

(China Daily June 24,2008)

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