River deaths force action against graft

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The Independent Online
THE COLLAPSE of a footbridge, killing at least 40 people hurled into the river below, has finally prompted a crackdown on corruption and shoddy work in the Chinese building industry.

"How can people live when they walk on bridges or pass by buildings, thinking they may be caught in a sudden collapse of such structures?" the Construction Minister, Yu Zhengsheng, said in a report yesterday. Over the past few years there have been repeated reports of problems with poorly built bridges, but few accidents were properly detailed in the media.

But this latest disaster, whose victims included 18 soldiers out for a jog, appears to have alerted the government to the problems.

The accident happened on 4 January in Qijiang county, on the outskirts of the western city of Chongqing.

Yesterday the China Daily said four people had been detained in an investigation and two removed from their jobs. Structural problems, sub-standard reinforced concrete and poor maintenance were the main causes of the collapse.

Mr Yu said the number of complaints about poor construction had risen 50 per cent since 1997.

In another case, a highway in Yunnan province was closed days after opening because of subsidence caused by shoddy construction material.

As ever in China, corruption is often the cause of such problems. Corrupt companies and officials agree to cut corners and costs and pocket the money saved. Cadres can be bribed into giving safety and completion certificates, despite the sub-standard work.

The government is again making a determined effort to crack down on corruption generally, but the scale of the problem is overwhelming. Last year, it was announced yesterday, the country handled 108,828 cases of bribery and dereliction of duty.

Of more than 40,000 people investigated in the cases, 1,820 were government officials ranking above the county level and 7,065 were judicial and administrative officials, said Han Zhubin, the head of the Supreme People's Procuratorate.