Corporate negligence

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Zijin Mining Group Co, which was found releasing pollutants into a local river that killed thousands of tons of fish and rendered its waters unsafe for human consumption, has been ordered to suspend operations. Some of its top managers are in police custody, and the head of the local environmental watchdog has resigned.

The company is, however, sure to resume production after some technical rectifications. Zijin is not just a public limited company. It is a major contributor to local government coffers. And, local officials hold personal stakes in the miner.

Company executives say the pollution was caused - another instance of which ocurred again on Friday - due to a technical glitch, and that the pollutants released into the river are not as lethal as reported.

Even the local environmental protection authorities have concluded that the river water is now fit for human consumption.

The fact is, this is not a simple matter of a technical error. It is the combined outcome of long-term corporate negligence, and dereliction of duty by the local environmental watchdog. Both parties have to squarely take the blame and must be held accountable.

The Zijin story reveals a cover-up of some magnitude on the part of the company, as well as by the local officials.

The local communities along the river banks were not apprized of the serious nature of the problem until nine days after tons of dead fish began to fill the river.

The company maintained that the action was "for stability's sake." Such brazenness is more often than not a bureaucratic pretext for information control. That Zijin's managers spontaneously assumed such a responsibility indicates their close association with local government officials.

Yet, it is evidently a lame excuse. Keeping the public in the dark is certain to backfire. In this information era, no firewall is airtight. And, the supposed "stability" built upon information control has been proved, time and again, to be fragile and unreliable.

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