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Former Party chief sorry for wasteful vanity projects

By YANG ZEKUN | China Daily | Updated: 2024-01-09 09:34
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Former vice-chairman of the Guizhou Provincial Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, Li Zaiyong, expressed remorse in an anti-graft special broadcast on Sunday night for recklessly accumulating debt and blindly pursuing ambitious and costly vanity projects while serving as the Party chief of Liupanshui.

During his tenure as Party chief of the city from 2013 to 2017, Li promoted the construction of 23 tourism projects, 16 of which were later classified as unprofitable and idle.

Local debt skyrocketed by over 150 billion yuan ($21 billion) at an annual growth rate exceeding 300 percent from 2013 to 2017, leaving a heavy burden on the locality.

The four-episode anti-corruption special was produced by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the National Commission of Supervision and China Central Television. The series began airing on CCTV-1 on Saturday night, with this second episode titled Political Supervision and Guarantee concluding on Sunday.

"The consequences of deviating from the new development concept are a very significant economic and social disaster," he said.

"Indeed, there was no consideration for the people in my heart. It was all about myself, my image and my influence, so it's inevitable for me to end up like this today."

Li was placed under investigation in March 2023, and it was revealed that he had violated each of the six major disciplines of the Party, with his actions intertwining political and economic issues.

"I was one step away from the cadre who was under the management of the Organization Department of CPC Central Commission at that time, thus I hoped to make some bold and impactful moves to attract the attention of higher-ups. So, it's still out of my selfishness," he said.

Liupanshui, an industrial city, relied on traditional industries such as coal, building materials and steel. However, Li prioritized tourism development with the aim of transforming it into a world-class tourist destination.

Due to the limited natural scenery in the area, some officials and residents questioned this direction. Li disregarded dissenting opinions, forcefully pushing the projects forward.

"At that time, I said that tourism can be created out of thin air, exaggerated. I asked local officials to plan a batch of projects, attract investment, and initiate and complete some projects every year, without considering the input-output," he said.

Despite the city being located in an underdeveloped area and with locals facing significant challenges in their livelihoods, the funding for numerous tourism projects went ahead. Li approved the establishment of six financing platform companies, incorporating financing amounts into the performance evaluation indicators for officials.

Some projects were packaged as corporate initiatives, requiring companies to seek financing, while others were imposed on subordinate counties to raise funds. As a result, some counties resorted to illegal and irregular operations to fulfill their tasks.

"For officials, this was tremendous pressure, they used all kinds of means and created something out of nothing, yet the government was in heavy debt," he said.

"If I had to repay the money I borrowed at that time, I definitely wouldn't have borrowed it. But since the government would repay it, I borrowed it. Anyway, I would change positions in a few years, so the successor who comes afterward will bear the responsibility. It was passing the buck," he said.

These inefficient and idle projects went unchallenged, leading to a detachment from actual market forces and consumer demand. Li's highly valued Meihua Mountain Ski Resort project serves as a typical example.

Without considering that Liupanshui only has a one-month skiing season each year, and already had two existing ski resorts, he still approved the new project. That and 29 sub-projects accumulated debt of over 30 billion yuan. Today, except for during the monthlong skiing season, visitors are scarce, making it challenging to viably operate.

Li knowingly occupied large amounts of forest, grassland and water sources in ecologically fragile areas, and the ski resort project alone caused direct losses of over 86 million yuan due to environmental damage.

A vicious chain reaction soon appeared due to the massive spending and lack of return. Some projects couldn't repay their debts when due, so the government kept taking out new loans to pay off old ones. Some projects' fees have been in arrears for a long time, and funds have even been misappropriated that should have been prioritized for mass resettlement, directly harming the vital interests of the public.

"These projects have dragged down enterprises and discouraged migrant workers. Some resettlement houses have not been built, meaning that many people have not been able to live and work in peace for a long time... I hurt the hearts of the people," he said.

Li proposed creating about 66,670 hectares for the roxburgh rose industry. However, he ignored differences in planting conditions, and demanded concentrated and large-scale planting.

His one-size-fits-all approach resulted in many seedlings having poor growth and low fruiting rates. Now, 40 percent of farmers have cut down the trees and switched to planting other crops.

"The request for large-scale planting was mainly for aesthetics. I hoped that when leaders looked out of their cars, they would see the industry everywhere. I once majored in agriculture, and I know the compatibility of soil with plants. When a person is in it for his own benefit, he can actually forget the most basic knowledge," he said.

Investigations revealed that Li also engaged in substantial corruption, using his position for personal gain and helping others in areas such as project contracting and project planning approval, and illegally accepting significant amounts of money and assets.

In November last year, he was expelled from the Party, dismissed from public office, and arrested on charges of taking bribes and abuse of power.

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