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Watchdog Targets Heartless Insiders

One day after four central Party and government offices ordered government workers to revoke their shares in coal mining enterprises, the State Council passed a new bill aimed at helping prevent mining accidents, on Wednesday.

In response to the national legislature's recent report on the dismal implementation of the Law on Safe Production, the bill calls for a detailed specification of situations that should lead to suspension of mines, improvement of safety awareness, and better definitions of liabilities.

There is no doubt the authorities are serious about mine safety.

They have talked and acted, expecting the upgrading of safety standards in the country's notorious mine shafts.

The calls sound harsh, and the rules appear strict. Still, unnerving evil tidings have continued to come from underground.

Official statistics show a 70.3 per cent rise in the number of people dead or missing in coal mine accidents since July over the same period last year.

The most recent heartbreaking story emerged on Monday afternoon when rescuers abandoned all hope of finding survivors 23 days and nights after water inundated a pit at the Daxing Coal Mine in Xingning, Guangdong Province. The 123 miners trapped underground were declared dead.

The upsurge in mining disasters took place amid a high-profile production safety campaign.

There were not only appeals but also new rules to enhance safety awareness, refine safety guarantees and shut down illicit mining facilities.

Each and every new measure adopted, if executed to the letter, would have led to more or less positive changes. But as we have learnt from the series of tragedies, most of the well-thought-out solutions have been compromised in practice.

Since July, 60 per cent of all major mine accidents have occurred at pits which had received official orders to suspend production or simply shut down. Those commands were defied under the watchful eyes of local supervisors.

Maybe we should feel thankful that our national production safety watchdogs have finally identified and not come to terms with collusion between officials and illicit mine owners as the crux of the problem.

It is encouraging to see such forceful cleaning up in the country's mining areas.

More than 7,000 pits have been ordered to suspend production. They will be subject to permanent closure if they fail to meet safety standards by the end of the year.

They may be serious about public scrutiny this time - a full list of the mines to be suspended has been published.

The Central Discipline Inspection Commission of the Communist Party of China, along with three other central government offices, ordered government employees and State firm managers who have stakes in coal mines to withdraw their investments by September 22. Failure to meet the deadline will result in immediate demotion and investigation, according to a notice issued on Tuesday.

Mining accidents have exposed stunning malpractice in low-level administration. Corrupt officials have been found behind many tragedies.

Well-intended countermeasures from Beijing repeatedly end up abortive exactly because of the presence of such system insiders.

The State Council's latest bill intends to present a comprehensive policy but its true effectiveness rests on whether or not efforts start with and focus on regulating system insiders.

(China Daily September 2, 2005)

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