Zhouqu reconstruction under close watch

Updated: 2011-08-11 17:09


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ZHOUQU, Gansu - He Xinchao is not a licensed inspector of any kind. He doesn't have professional tools or training.

However, when it comes to testing the strength and quality of the concrete canals built to handle flood discharges in his village, He uses an effective, if unorthodox, technique: he throws large stones at them.

He is a resident of the village of Yueyuan, located in Zhouqu county in Northwest China's Gansu province. He is one of about two dozen local inspectors who were directly elected by the public in May to supervise the reconstruction of the county following last year's devastating mudslide.

Zhouqu was devastated when an avalanche of mud roared down the slopes of a nearby mountain on Aug 8, 2010 following days of heavy rain. The disaster left 1,765 people dead or missing, in addition to destroying buildings and roads.

He and his youngest son survived the disaster by clinging to a utility pole. The father and son saved themselves, but the rest of their family perished in the tragedy.

He joined other survivors in taking government officials to task following the mudslide, as many local residents suspected that poor construction quality in a dam built in the upper reaches of a nearby valley might've exacerbated the effects of the mudslide. Their complaints led to further transparency in government-led post-disaster reconstruction efforts.

To ensure transparent, high-quality reconstruction in Zhouqu, the local government organized a May election that allowed local residents to vote for independent inspectors.

Of the 23 elected, eight became housing project inspectors. The other 15 inspectors are permitted to inspect and comment on all of the county's reconstruction projects.

The inspectors are allowed to collect public opinions and submit proposals to reconstruction authorities directly. Local government agencies are obliged to study their reports and give feedback.

In one case, inspectors ordered suspension of the construction of a new drainage canal and successfully persuaded authorities to improve the canal's flood discharge capacity.

The introduction of elected inspectors has been met with positive response from the public.

Yang Yimao, an inspector from the county's village of Shuiquan, supervised the construction of a housing project in Zhouqu county's Fengdie New Area.

Yang's home survived the mudslide. However, local authorities expropriated and demolished his home, as well as ten other homes, in order to make space for post-disaster reconstruction efforts. Yang and the other displaced residents are waiting to be moved into newly-built homes.

For each inspector, the government offers a monthly subsidy of around 1,000 to 2,000 yuan. But Yang said he doesn't care about the money.

"I would continue working as an inspector, even if there was no pay," Yang said. "Because I know there's one for myself among the houses being rebuilt."

Yang went to the construction site each morning, keeping up on the progress of the reconstruction efforts and overseeing the quality of the project. He briefed his fellow residents about the project upon returning to his village in the evening.

Xia Hongmin, head of the Zhouqu reconstruction coordination team, said the decision to invite inspectors from the general public has helped to mobilize the local community in contributing to the reconstruction efforts and improve public understanding of the government-led reconstruction projects.