China's Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP) has blamed negligent officials for a series of coal mine blasts that caused huge casualties, but noted that most officials were let off lightly.
After investigations into nine major blasts in 2005, each with a death toll exceeding 30, the SPP found six involved official malfeasance and held 46 government officials responsible, according an SPP report released on Tuesday.
It attributed the main cause of the accidents to violations of safety rules in which mine owners ordered operations to exceed production limits.
"Such illegal operations are closely linked to criminal negligence of government officials in carrying out supervision duties," said a spokesman with the SPP's anti-malfeasance bureau.
But after analysing court rulings of suspects charged with neglect of duty in serious security accidents in 2006, the SPP found 95.6 percent of them received no serious punishment.
Of the 249 officials tried, two had charges against them dropped; 131, or 52.6 percent, escaped criminal punishment; and 107, or 43 percent, were treated with probation.
"The general public, especially civil servants and officials, underestimate the harm of malfeasance and the importance and need to penalize such acts," the SPP spokesman said.
"Quite a lot of cases have been ignored or tolerated and officials involved are 'forgiven'."
He accused some high officials of being "not understanding and not cooperating with, and not being supportive of" punishing negligence of duty or even protecting suspects in their interests.
"In many cases, malfeasance is the result of corruption, which in turn, aids and abets such official negligence," the official said.
The report also detailed specific cases. Hu Jianchang, former deputy director of the Guangdong Provincial Administration for Work Safety, was charged in June 2006 with neglect of duty and accepting the equivalent of more than 530,000 yuan (US$70,000) in bribes from coal mine owners following a mine flooding that left 121 people dead.
In another case at the Jiajiabao Coal Mine, in Ningwu county, Shanxi Province, in July 2005, two senior county Party officials collaborated with mine owners to hide the bodies of 17 dead miners after a gas explosion in order to escape punishment.
The report also found some officials had invested in coal mines they supervised or ensured certain mines were operated by relatives or friends.
Figures from the State Administration of Work Safety, China's safety watchdog, show coal mine accidents killed 4,746 people in 2006.
In early May, the SPP announced the launch of a month-long campaign to publicly shame officials for dereliction of duty and abuse of power.
Over the course of the month, prosecuting organs would publish the findings of the investigations and ways in which the public can report official corruption, said Tong Jianming, SPP spokesman.
From January 2003 to March 2007, China's procuratorates prosecuted 18,200 officials for dereliction of duty or abusing their positions. Of these, 12,392 were convicted.
Dereliction by officials had resulted in 35.73 billion yuan in direct economic losses since 2003.
(Xinhua News Agency May 23, 2007)