Seven officials in charge of coal mine safety in Shanxi have
been indicted and sentenced this year, providing clues as to why
there are so many deadly coal mine accidents in the province.
Those county-level safety supervision bureau chiefs have taken a
huge amount in bribes from mine owners and acted as shields for
their illegal business activities.
The north China province is the largest coal producer in the
country, accounting for about 30 per cent of national coal
Li Yizhong, minister of the General Administration of Work
Safety, has pointed to widespread corruption in the management of
the highly lucrative industry as one of the major causes of the
Just last year, 3,341 coal mine accidents killed some 5,986
people in the country. The accidents' causes were diverse;
complicated geological conditions in some places, inadequate safety
input, faulty underground operation and loose daily management
provide some answers to the question.
People have also long suspected officials' involvement in those
illegally operated coal mines, many of which obviously cannot meet
safety standards but are licensed nonetheless.
In a sense, the most dangerous are not those without safety
licenses, but those that are licensed yet still cannot meet safety
The new development in Shanxi solves the puzzle of why
large-scale accidents keep cropping up in local mines despite
strengthened central measures.
Loose management can be improved if local officials become more
alert and are made to abide by relevant supervisory procedures. But
intentional cover-ups would be a much more thorny knot to untangle,
especially when it becomes rampant and driven by economic
The Shanxi case raises the question of how to uncover such
cover-ups, or, in other words, how to put safety supervision
officials under effective supervision.
Given the many loose license approval cases in the mining sector
found in various investigations, it becomes common sense that the
safety situation would be greatly eased if the local officials in
charge of safety production could be closely watched to prevent
their abuse of power.
It is obvious that the current supervision mechanism remains
Power may be easily abused without a strong external supervisory
force. This is one of the lessons from the Shanxi cases.
And we may find better solutions to coal mine accidents if we
give serious attention to the matter.
(China Daily September 15, 2006)