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Tougher Penalty Sought for Emergency Cover-ups
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Legislators mulling a draft emergency response law Monday called for stronger sanctions on government officials who cover up or delay the release of information during public emergencies.
They said violators should face criminal penalties.

The current draft law, tabled at the 28th session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) for a second reading, only includes disciplinary or administrative punishments for officials who delay or cover up information.

But committee member Nan Zhenzhong said the sanctions are too mild.

"Efforts to delay the release of information or cover up an emergency often result in serious public crises," he said. "Any official responsible for such actions must bear criminal responsibility for dereliction of duty."

The Criminal Law says officials found guilty of dereliction crimes can receive prison sentences of up to 10 years.

Nan said the proposed stipulation was also in line with the new regulation on openness with government information. The regulation says officials who fail to release information that by law should be made public should face criminal penalties.

Chen Shu, an NPC deputy, said administrative punishments would not deter officials from covering up emergencies.

"Criminal penalties must be clearly spelt out," she said.

The SARS crisis in 2003 and the pollution of the Songhua River in 2005 were mentioned in the review. In both cases, governments came in for heavy criticism from home and abroad for delaying and covering up information.

Also during the reading of the draft anti-monopoly law yesterday, lawmakers attacked public service sector monopolies like telecommunications and power generation, calling for more competition.

Committee member Wang Maolin said the draft should have provisions to restrict monopoly players in service sectors to prevent them from manipulating prices for higher profits and hurting the public interest.

(China Daily June 26, 2007)

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