Underperformers shown the door
Rarely in the country do county leaders take the blame for their malfeasance in major incidents such as botchups in a nationwide tree planting programme.
Wu Jianhua, magistrate of Gaoxian County in Southwest China's Sichuan Province, and Wang Bangxing, county Party secretary, have resigned in just such a case, according to local sources.
The resignations came amid rising appeals nationwide that officials should not remain in their positions of power when they are found to be failing to carry out their duties responsibly.
It is the first case of its kind in the southwestern province, officials say. It is also a rarity for the nationwide programme, called "grain-for-green."
The central government sent out a strong message recently that a universal "take-blame-and-resign system" be adopted for officials at all levels.
Recently, some officials were forced to resign after public outcries over large numbers of casualties in serious accidents or when corruption was uncovered, rather than simple malfeasance.
The grain-for-green programme, set by the central government late in the 1990s, is set to turn grain fields into forested areas in a bid to improve the environment. Farmers are to be compensated with grain from State reserves for ending grain production growing trees on the same land.
Knowing of the existing serious problems and the need to promote the "grain-for-green" policy in Ren'ai Township in the county, the two county heads did not take timely measures to solve the problems, which resulted in clashes between local farmers and the government.
In early 2002, without any contracts and plans for planting tea trees, the government of Ren'ai Township called on farmers to convert the farmland into forests.
But at the end of the year, the government refused to approve the tea trees the farmers had planted because the trees were not planted properly, causing a great economic loss to the farmers.
However, the government accepted huge areas of trees that were contracted out by several local officials, who were later found to have cheating by reporting exaggerated amounts of planted trees so as to earn extra subsidies.
The cheating and local authorities' unfair handling of the matter aroused concern from the central government and the Sichuan provincial government, which ordered a thorough investigation.
Besides the two county heads, other involved officials received punishments.
The local government then approved most of the farmer's trees and distributed proper subsidies to them, local authorities said.