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Local officials must be made aware healthy environment is a priority

China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-07 07:03

Local officials must be made aware healthy environment is a priority

Smoke rises from a chimneys of a steel mill on a hazy day in Fengnan district of Tangshan, Hebei province February 18, 2014.[Photo/Agencies]

JIANGSU PROVINCIAL HIGH PEOPLE'S COURT issued its first white paper on environmental protection cases heard in courts in the province on Tuesday, World Environment Day. According to the white paper, courts in Jiangsu accepted 1,880 cases related to the environment from 2014 to 2016, and, most notably, 13 officials were found guilty for their involvement in environmental crimes. Legal Daily comments:

A closer look at the officials reveals something interesting. In 2014, two officials were found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment for environmental crimes; the number rose to three in 2015 and to eight in 2016.

That shows at least two trends: First, certain officials are guilty of not doing their duty to protect the environment; second, the judiciary is determined to fight such crimes.

Most of the 13 officials were found guilty of failing in their duties or trying to cover up the crimes of others. Their mode of illegality was similar: When receiving complaints from the public about certain enterprises polluting the environment, they ignored the complaints, or even helped the enterprises evade their due punishments. Some did so because they received bribes from the polluting enterprises, while some bent the law for the polluters because curbing pollution might harm the local economic growth and dim their hopes of promotion.

In both cases, it is the local residents that suffer from their actions. The problem is, the officials that failed in their duties or abused their power seldom received judicial penalty. That only 13 officials were found guilty of any wrongdoing is a small number compared to the total number of pollution cases heard by the courts in Jiangsu. Quite a number of officials have gone unpunished despite their failure to fulfill their duty of protecting the environment.

It is time to change this. The environment cannot possibly be protected unless the responsible officials perform their duties as they should. In order to realize this, it is necessary to regulate the officials and let them receive their deserved penalties when they are involved in illegal activities.

More important, as has been called for many times, the way leading lower-level officials are evaluated needs to be changed so they do not pursue GDP growth at all costs. The environment should be included in the performance evaluation system for officials, which will encourage leading local officials to better perform their environmental protection duties.

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