Sichuan earthquake: Hong Kong urges aid veto over corruption fears


Wednesday 24 April 2013 20:02
A child gets treatment in a military field hospital in Lushan, Sichuan
A child gets treatment in a military field hospital in Lushan, Sichuan

Politicians in Hong Kong have fiercely opposed a plan to donate money to Sichuan to help with earthquake relief efforts, citing concerns that the local government would misuse the funds.

The city’s leader, Leung Chun-ying, proposed donating HK$100m ($13m) to the Sichuan provincial government for relief efforts following the earthquake on Saturday that struck Lushan county, killing at least 196 people and injuring more than 11,000.

Politicians said they wanted to help the victims but opposed giving money to government officials because of fears about corruption. They said they would prefer that the money be channelled to aid groups and non-governmental organisations.

The debate reflects the wider public wariness in semi-autonomous Hong Kong about official corruption in mainland China, an enduring problem that the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, has promised to root out. It marks a sharp change in sentiment compared with reactions to previous disasters that prompted residents to open their wallets, such as a devastating earthquake that struck the Sichuan region in 2008, killing 90,000 people.

Following that quake, “the government donated HK$9bn in return for scandals and also a lot of sub-standard projects,” politician Kwok Ka-ki said.

The Hong Kong City-State Autonomy Movement called on legislators to veto the motion, citing the alleged misuse of the funds that Hong Kong sent to Sichuan after the 2008 earthquake, when money that was intended for relief reportedly ended up paying for government banquets. A Sichuan secondary school built in 2010 with HK$2m in quake relief funds was also later torn down to make way for a luxury housing development.

The Hong Kong government said on Tuesday that the province later returned the funds.

“What China lacks is not money but rather clean government,” said Hong Kong legislator Claudia Mo. “Our trust in those provincial governments has gone bankrupt.”

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