Nine months have passed since Ma Ning took his office on
September 3, 2006 as director for Southwest Environmental
Protection Supervision Center sponsored by State Environmental
Protection Administration (SEPA). On that day, he left Beijing for
Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province, where a center was
established to supervise and coordinate environmental protection
work in southwestern provinces. "Although penniless, I was ready to
do something," Ma said when he recalled that day during an
interview with Legal Daily.
Nine days later, Wang Dongqing left Beijing for Xi'an, capital
of northwest China's Shaanxi Province and took up the director post
of Northwest Environmental Protection Supervision Center, also
sponsored by SEPA.
Upon the arrival of two directors, a nationwide environmental
protection supervision system was thrust into the public eye, with
three other centers set up in Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenyang in
south, east, and northeast China respectively.
The new position has drastically changed Ma's work and rest
schedules; '7-16' (working 7 days a week, 16 hours a day) may be a
good term to describe his present life. Before going to Chengdu, he
worked in a department directly under the SEPA in Beijing. During
the past nine months, he visited 30 of 53 prefectures and cities in
southwestern Chongqing Municipality, Tibet Autonomous Region, Sichuan, Guizhou, and Yunnan provinces.
The area covers nearly 2.4 million square kilometers, accounting
for about a quarter of China's total land area. It's home to 200
million people which is approximately one-sixth of the country's
Before his center's official launch on December 5, 2006, Ma had
discovered an incident of dishonesty in a diesel oil leakage case
in Luzhou in Sichuan. On November 6, the Luzhou Power Plant
polluted the Yangtze River after a machine leaked diesel oil
cutting off water supplies to the city.
The figure reported by local environmental protection department
was 0.38 tons, but after Ma's spot investigation, a revised figure
of 16.945 tons, 44 times of the previous one, was reported on
November 15. Six people related to the case were punished and the
plant was fined for 200,000 yuan (US$26,127). The plant's ongoing
projects had been ordered to suspend.
Half a month ago, the media reported to the center that there
were serious environmental violations occurring in an industrial
park of Panzhihua City, Sichuan Province. Authorized by its parent
body SEPA, the center sent inspectors twice to the park to
investigate and verify the facts. They discovered that nearly half
of the enterprises in the park were set up before getting official
approval, and industrial waste water was hundreds times
Ma said on June 4 results of the investigation had been released
and 7 people had been prosecuted.
"Are you afraid of offending others?" Ma was asked by a
Legal Daily reporter. "My job is to offend some people,
what am I afraid of?" Ma replied.
When Ma went to Chengdu in September of 2006, no staff, no
office, not even a budget was waiting for him there. "But this was
not the most difficult thing. What plagued me most was our
authority and status in the law enforcement process," Ma said when
asked about difficulties he had met.
Ma told Legal Daily that although the center was called
'supervision center,' what they do is 'investigate' rather than
'supervise.' "Every single case should be authorized by SEPA," Ma
said, "Many times when we started to investigate, local governments
would tell us there are no problems. Finally, we would have to do
undercover investigations to get close to problems."
"At present there are no laws and regulations that give an
explicit definition of the regional administrative body and its
functions," according to Wang Canfa, a professor with China
University of Political Science and Law, who was invited by SEPA to
do research on the work of these supervision centers. "The only
legal basis for setting up such an environmental protection center
can be found in a notice on reinforcing environmental protection by
the State Council on February 14, 2006," Wang said, "This low-level
legislation cannot provide a sound basis for a government body's
operation and law enforcement."
Restricted by its unclear status, the center's on-site
investigation will only be aided by local environmental protection
departments if SEPA communicates with them in advance. Without
their support, it would be difficult for inspectors to get to the
scene or enterprises to continue their probes.
"False report is another frustrating difficulty," Ma said, "As a
saying goes 'It is an ill bird that fouls its own nest.' Some local
officials and enterprises are always reluctant to tell the truth
when pollution happens, which will land us in a passive position
and could lead to a disaster."
According to Regulations on the Reporting, Investigation and
Disposition of Work Safety Accidents that took effect on June 1,
2007, once the accident happens, it should be reported to a local
work safety administration within one hour. The lower level
departments should report the case to its higher level body within
less than two hours.
"The situation is much better now as a lot of cases could not be
reached by SEPA, but the supervision centers could. At least,
pollution reporting has greatly improved," according to a SEPA
official, who is in charge of the management of five supervision
(China.org.cn by Zhang Yunxing June 10, 2007)