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Responsibility mechanism to force officials to address pollution

Updated: 2013-06-05 00:19
( Xinhua)

BEIJING - Lin Chun-sheng never considered leaving Beijing until heavy smog shrouded the city earlier this year.

Lin, who graduated from a university of Chinese medicine in Beijing seven years ago, hoped to pursue his dream of becoming a professional doctor in the city. But the air pollution has made him reconsider.

"Smog is the only reason that I'm planning to leave Beijing," he said.

On May 24, President Xi Jinping called for comprehensive counter-pollution efforts. Speaking during an ecological construction study session with members of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, he called for establishing a lifelong responsibility mechanism targeting those who conduct irresponsible decision-making that leads to severe environmental consequences.

Lin said Xi's speech touched on a key component in the fight against pollution, as only a lifelong mechanism can force government officials, who may escape punishment after ending their tenure under the current management system, to address pressing pollution issues.

Chinese officials are often criticized by the public for ignoring environmental pollution in favor of boosting local economies. Environmental problems are often revealed years after they complete their tenures, leaving the problem in the hands of their successors.

Pollution is a serious problem in China. A report released in March indicated that as much as 72 of China's biggest rivers have been contaminated with as much as 46,000 tonnes of heavy metals, including zinc, copper, lead and cadmium.

Last month, rice produced in central China's Hunan province was found to contain excessive levels of cadmium, which was largely believed to be caused by water and soil pollution.

To curb pollution, south China's Guangdong province has adopted an environmental protection assessment for government officials. The provincial departments of supervision and environmental protection jointly announced on May 9 that the supervisory department will question and criticize mayors who fail to curb pollution.

A lifelong responsibility mechanism will not only help fight pollution in relatively developed eastern areas, but also prevent polluted industries from moving to less developed western areas.

Zhong Kaibin, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said government officials in west China are now more likely to approve major development projects while neglecting their environmental impact.

In Kunming, capital of southwest China's Yunnan province, hundreds of residents protested in May over plans to build an oil refinery near the city. Although government officials said the project passed feasibility studies and was approved by the country's top economic planner, residents still asked for the plant be relocated.

A mechanism to hold officials responsible for environmental damage for their lifetimes will prevent west China governments from favoring development over environmental protection, Zhong said.

Gao Wenxue, deputy chief of the environmental protection bureau of the city of Huai'an in east China's Jiangsu province, said officials should bear a sense of shame if pollution is not properly addressed.

"We should feel ashamed if children cannot see stars in the sky at night or enjoy fresh air," he said.