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Local govts need more green awareness

By Zhu Dazhi | China Daily | Updated: 2017-08-07 07:28

While offering its investigation feed backs to the government of East China's Fujian province on Mon day, the central environmental inspection team said the good ecological foundation of the province had prompted some local officials to be overoptimistic about the health of the local environment and thus not address the environmental problems, which undermined the efforts to preserve the unique local marine ecology.

The environment inspection team also discovered that the local government had failed to fully abandon local policies and rules by June 2015, as required by the top authorities, which in turn obstructed environmental protection monitoring.

What shocked the inspection team most is the Shishi local government convening a "special meeting" in December 2015 to urge the city's environmental protection bureau to revoke an administrative punishment imposed on a local enterprise for violating the environmental protection law. The local government's move amounted to conniving with the enterprise to breach the environmental protection law.

That some local governments have a "tolerant" attitude toward local enterprises' actions which violate the environmental protection law is not news as such. But the Shishi local government in Fujian has set a particularly bad example by calling a special meeting to "pardon" an enterprise which had broken the environmental protection law, especially because such local officials' behavior are rarely reported by local media outlets.

Had the central environmental inspection team not discovered the severe breach of the environmental protection law, or national media outlets not reported it, the public would not have known that a local government has gone so far as to protect a law-breaking enterprise in order to improve its performance with higher economic growth.

Why do some local governments still indulge in such malpractices?

The fundamental reason for that lies in the country's environmental protection monitoring and management system. China's localized environmental protection bureaus do not have the power to prevent Shishi-like malpractices or to punish the violators. So until the localized environmental protection management system is thoroughly reformed, it will be difficult to eliminate such malpractices.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection is the supreme administrative organ under the Chinese government for environmental protection supervision and management. And provincial-and lower-level environmental protection bureaus are set up under the auspices of corresponding level governments. In other words, these environmental protection bureaus are usually under the dual leadership of their local governments and higher-level environmental protection authorities.

But due to several factors, such as the asymmetrical fiscal and personnel management power, the local environmental protection bureaus end up functioning under their respective local governments. How else can one explain the Shishi local government's move to urge the local environmental protection bureau to "repeal" the administrative punishment it had meted out to an enterprise for violating the law?

The loopholes in the dual-leadership system of environmental protection were exposed years ago, which should be plugged as early as possible. Last year, the top authorities decided to change the country's local government-dominant environmental protection management system and adopt a vertical environmental inspection system under the provincial-level governments and planned to complete the reform within two to three years based on "experimental" measures.

It is now clear that to prevent Shishi-like fiascoes, the authorities should create favorable conditions for the implementation of the vertical management system for environmental protection agencies.

The author is a Chengdu-based freelance writer, and the article was originally published in China Youth Daily.


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