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New rule tests officials' sense of responsibility
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Since the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) made public a regulation on officials' accountability a month ago, a batch of officials have received punishment for their mishandling of incidents that led to serious negative impacts.

On July 25, two officials, including a municipal Party chief, in Shishou city in central Hubei Province were removed from their posts for "mishandling" a mass incident in June triggered by a chef's death.

On Aug. 1, after cadmium pollution sickened 509 people in Liuyang City, central Hunan Province, Chen Wenbo, the city's environmental bureau chief, and Zhang Zhiliang, deputy director of the bureau, were suspended from their posts. They were later removed from the posts.

By Aug. 6, at least four officials had been sacked in Chifeng City in northern Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region over a tap water-pollution incident that made more than 4,000 residents ill. Among them were director and deputy director of the municipal construction commission.

And in a television tower collapse incident in Jinzhou city in northern Hebei Province, the city's radio, film and television bureau director and two deputy directors were sacked for dereliction of duty on Aug. 6.

Wang Wei, professor with the China National School of Administration, said, "This series of cases showed the accountability system of Chinese officials is being standardized and enshrined into institution."

Han Xiaoming was one of the officials dismissed in the Chifeng tap water-pollution incident.

"The accountability system can push officials to be more exacting in doing work in a bid to do a better job," Han said.

However, the 47-year-old admitted the pressure brought by the system. "Though being held accountable (for an incident) is not a sheer veto to your political future, it left a trace in your archives and will surely have negative impact on your development."

The CPC first introduced "forced resignation" in a regulation on cadre selection and appointment in 1995.

Since then, the word "accountability" has referred to rules concerning CPC or government officials as the Chinese government eyes establishing a more standardized and comprehensive system in this arena.

In the regulation made public on July 12, the CPC detailed seven misconducts which could lead to official's removal from posts, such as "improper handling of group protests" or "making a wrong decision that leads to great losses or has serious negative impact".

"The reinforced efforts to improve the system aims to use institution pressure on cadres to make them examine themselves, enhance sense of responsibility, and constantly seek to improve their governance capability," professor Wang Wei said.

Zhong Ming, former secretary of the CPC's Shishou city committee, was the first local leader sacked since the new rule came into force.

"As the principal leader, I'm responsible for the occurance of the incident. I obey the decision of the dismissal," he told Xinhua.

Tu Yuangao, a 24-year-old cook, was found lying dead at the gate of a hotel in Shishou on the evening of June 17. Police concluded the man had killed himself, but Tu's family and the public were not convinced, and online rumors emerged.

Shishou officials did not act until after about 80 hours of silence, fueling rampant rumors which resulted in an unrest when angry locals obstructed two streets, burnt the hotel and smashed several vehicles.

Lessons should be learned from the incident, the new secretary of the CPC's Shishou city committee Yu Hongxing said.

"We must attach more importance on improving people's livelihood, sustaining stabiity and scrupulously do our duty," Yu said.

"To forestall is better than inflicting rigid punishment after trouble," professor Wang Wei said. "The accountability system should be used to make officials more aware of their responsiblity in daily work and do their job well to spot loopholes and potential risks."

(Xinhua News Agency August 13, 2009)

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