China's chief quality supervisor Li Changjiang stepped down Monday afternoon with the approval of the State Council after tainted dairy products sickened tens of thousands of infants and killed three.
Wang Yong, former deputy secretary-general of the State Council, replaced him as the director of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (GAQSIQ).
Li was the highest ranking official brought down so far by the dairy product contamination scandal.
Across the country, 13,000 babies remain in hospital after falling ill from melamine-tainted milk powder, and nearly 40,000 other babies were also sickened but had been cured, according to the Ministry of Health on Sunday.
Wu Xianguo, the Communist Party chief of Shijiazhuang City, the epicenter of the national dairy industry tremor in northern Hebei Province, was also sacked on Monday.
Before Wu, Mayor Ji Chuntang and Vice Mayor Zhang Fawang as well as three other responsible city officials were sacked after locally-based Sanlu Group became the first dairy producer under the spotlight in the scandal.
The latest government personnel reshuffle, together with the resignation of Shanxi governor Meng Xuenong following a deadly landslide triggered by the collapse of an illegal mining dump, sent a strong signal of the central government's resolution to hold relevant officials accountable for severe production and quality incidents, said professor Wang Wei of the National School of Administration.
"Such a system is especially crucial to the building of a service-oriented government as the public, impressed with the Olympic efficiency of the governments at various levels, expect officials to retain quick-response and effective," Wang said.
Under the Civil Servants Law effective as of 2005 and the State Council Regulations on the Punishment of Civil Servants of Administrative Organs enacted last April, heads of administrative organs who fail to fulfill their duties and cause avoidable severe accidents to happen will face removal and severer punishment.
A State Council decision released on Monday defined the Sanlu milk powder issue as a "severe food safety incident".
Wu, who doubled as member of the Standing Committee of the Hebei Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, was removed for failure to report in time the issue to higher authorities and imcompetence in the disposition of the incident.
Li resigned taking the blame for supervision default.
Professor Wang found Li's resignation "no wonder". "With tightened and more efficient supervision, pathogenic dairy products would find no way to get out of the production lines," he said.
(Xinhua News Agency September 22, 2008)