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Local officials withdraw colliery investments
By Wang Zhenghua (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-10-12 05:44

Officials and State-owned company executives continue to withdraw their investments in coal mines in the face of harsh punishments threatened by the central government.

The country will also announce later this month the first group of collieries forced to close permanently as a focus of its efforts to curb further accidents in the coal industry.

According to figures released by the Ministry of Supervision on its website, 175 officials in Northwest China's Shaanxi and East China's Anhui provinces and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of North China have withdrawn 14.4 million yuan (US$1.8 million) from the mines.

Also, two officials in Shaanxi have been removed from their posts, as an investigation into behind-the-scene collusion between officials and mine owners gets under way.

In Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, about 150 officials have withdrawn their money from mines, the Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday, without saying how much was withdrawn.

Several State departments set up teams and begun their inspections yesterday in the province.

In addition, 119 officials and State-owned company leaders in Central China's Henan Province had withdrawn around 5.9 million yuan (US$728,000) by yesterday, but both numbers are expected to rise.

An owner of an illegal mine in Puxian County, in North China's Shanxi Province, said a licence for operating a legal mine would cost tens of millions yuan.

But under the protection of government officials, they could open a shaft by hiring about 10 workers, who used detonators and hoes and could unearth up to 100 tons a day.

So these owners, without paying any taxes, could make up to 3 million yuan (US$370,000) a year.

But as a result of the skirting of laws and regulations, China is plagued by colliery tragedies, as these shafts without proper safety guarantee are commonplace.

The administration had set September 22 as the deadline for government officers to withdraw their stakes in coal mining enterprises.

But in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, where two major coal mine blasts killed 97 people in the past three months, no officials have withdrawn their investments from the industry. Local media reported the deadline there was extended to October 20.

As another measure to deal with the problem, the State Administration for Work Safety has ordered 8,648 coal mines in 25 provinces and regions without proper safety guarantees to suspend production.

These coal mines will be closed permanently if they fail to meet safety standards.

Wang Xianzheng, deputy director of the administration, said on Monday that shutting down illegal coal mines is the last iron-hand measure to curb further tragedies, and will definitely encounter obstacles from colliery owners and groups involved.

He urged departments to resolve to join their efforts in addressing the problem.

In addition, the administration will encourage individuals to report coal mines with severe safety loopholes or illegal operations. Awards of up to 10,000 yuan (US$1,200) are possible.

Also in Shanxi, about 1 million workers and management personnel will receive safety training for working in coal mines.

New workers are required to have proper certificates before they may embark on coal production.

(China Daily 10/12/2005 page2)

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