Dam project dogged by corruption

BRIBERY AND corruption are besetting China's Three Gorges Dam project, according to farmers who claim they are being cheated of government resettlement funds. In one township, peasants have resorted to petitioning the central government because of officials extorting fees and pocketing resettlement money.

Details of the petitions follow China's admission that, by the end of last year, prosecutors in Chongqing City, at the upstream end of the plannedreservoir, had handled 95 Three Gorges-related cases, involving corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds. Most of the corrupt officials were in charge of theresettlement projects, or had access to construction funds.

Resettlement is the most sensitive issue involving the dam on the Yangtze river, scheduled to be finished in 2009, with more than 1.1 million people due to be moved. About 40 per cent of the dam's pounds 16bn total price-tag is earmarked for this resettlement, providing rich pickings for unscrupulous local officials. So far, 160,000 people have been relocated, according to official statistics.

Corruption is not the only problem facing China's biggest building site. At the end of last year, the Prime Minister, Zhu Rongji, announced during an inspection tour that China might invite foreign engineering companies to monitor the quality of construction. "Any carelessness will bring disaster to future generations and cause irretrievable losses," he said.

Wang Jiazhu, vice- president of the Three Gorges Project Development Corporation, was quoted in a state newspaper as saying: "Not all of the work completed is of top quality and a few defects have been reported." These included the weakness ofcement and substandard facilities in the ship lock.

A total of 632 square kilometres of land will be submerged, an expanse about the same as the Isle of Wight and 13 cities, 140 towns and 1,352 villages will disappear. In theory, all those affected are to get resettlement money and new land or jobs, but the reality is often very different.

Details of the petitions from angry farmers were released by International Rivers Network, an environmental lobby group that opposes the dam. The group said representatives of about 10,000 of the 15,329 people being moved from one riverside townshipsubmitted a petition to Peking in November 1997.

They said local officials were allotting only half of the20,000 yuan (pounds 1,500) per headcompensation. A second petition was filed last May, followed by a third in August, with accusations that officials took bribes from people outside the dam area so they would be registered as relocated people, that they extorted fees from relocated people, and forced relocated people to buy new housing permits.

The accusations mirror reports from Qin Xinlian, the procurator-general of Chongqing. Speaking of abuses in other townships, he said: "They took bribes, made up fake people to be resettled, and skimmed from the reallocation fund." The sums taken ranged from 10,000 yuan (pounds 750) to 200,000 yuan (pounds 15,000). In Zhongxian County officials built a commercial property unrelated to their resettlement responsibilities, using pounds 17,300 from the building fund.

Long before China started to admit corruption was a problem for the Three Gorges Dam, overseas anti-dam and human rights groups warned of the abuses going on. China previously always dismissed such reports as fabrications.