For a long time in China, only people who directly caused accidents were punished, while related government officials usually held a lofty pose, only showing their concern and organizing rescue and investigation. That stereotype is changing.
Nine officials this week have been sacked or received disciplinary penalties for failing to prevent a fake milk powder scandal which led to 13 deaths and malnutrition of 189 babies in Fuyang City, east China's Anhui Province, according to related supervision departments.
Three top city officials have received warnings for dereliction of duty, including Fuyang's Mayor Liu Qingqiang and two vice mayors, Ma Mingye and Du Changping, who took charge of market supervision work and health work respectively.
The punishments came after a probe by the State Council, which found that Fuyang officials failed to thoroughly investigate the widespread sales of fake milk powder after an initial complaint in May 2003. The scandal did not break until April this year.
Also this week, Jia Anqing, former director of the Shaanxi Provincial Sports Lottery Center, and five other local cadres involved in the notorious Xi'an lottery fraud, were detained for dereliction of duty.
During the fraud incident, a contractor of lottery ticket selling cheated on top prizes, each one BMW car and 120,000 yuan (14,458 US dollars), by making marks on lottery tickets and employing four persons to falsely claim the top prizes. All these five suspects had already been arrested before the detaining of the six cadres.
In April, the Chinese government approved the resignation of Ma Fucai, the ministerial-level general manager of the China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC), for his negligence in security measures that led to a deadly gas blow at a well owned by a CNPC subsidiary in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality. Some other CNPC cadres involved in the blowout were sacked or received disciplinary penalties.
The government this year also severely punished those responsible for a Lantern Festival stampede in Beijing's suburban Miyun County on Feb. 5 that killed 37 and a shopping mall fire in northeast China's Jilin Province that killed 51 on Feb. 15.
"The government is being more serious when handling accidents, showing its resolution to intensify cadres' sense of duty and to enhance administration according to law," said Mao Shoulong, professor with the public administration department of the People's University of China.
The severe punishment of officials for dereliction of duty shows the new central leadership is striving to build a responsible image featuring the "people first" principle, said Du Gangjian, professor with the National School of Administration.
But experts also deem it necessary to institutionalize the system of investigating and punishing officials, which asks for specific definition of their responsibilities and obligations as well as clear operational procedures.
(Xinhua News Agency June 11, 2004)