China punishes 18,000 companies for pollution


Some 18,000 polluting companies have been punished, fines of 870 million yuan (S$180 million) issued and more than 12,000 officials disciplined, as government teams fan out to complete inspections of environmental protection across China, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported yesterday.

The results of the checks by teams led by ministerial-level officials have affected the promotion prospects of thousands of officials, sending others to act quickly to shut down problematic factories before the inspectors arrive.

The teams are made up of officials from the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Communist Party’s anti-graft watchdog and its personnel arm, the Hong Kong newspaper said.

The two party agencies involved in the inspections, the graft-busting Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the Central Organisation Department, are seen as having a big say in determining officials’ promotion prospects.

The teams started their work in July last year, and began their final and fourth round of checks last month to complete coverage of China’s 31 provincial-level regions.

In the past, enforcement officers from the Environmental Protection Ministry were often met with defiance and resistance, but not this time around, analysts say.

“The central environmental inspection teams are different. They are like the ‘imperial envoys’,” Professor Junjie Zhang, director of the Environmental Research Centre at Duke Kunshan University, told SCMP.

The teams deployed can hold local officials, including municipal and provincial party bosses, responsible for environmental problems, he added.

The punishments range from public criticism and demotion, to being removed from office.

Professor Zhu Lijia, a public policy expert at the state-run Chinese Academy of Governance, said such punishment would affect the political prospects of those involved, as party rules bar them from promotion for between six months and two years.

With a key Communist Party congress due next month, officials hoping for promotion are especially sensitive about these inspections, SCMP said.

Meanwhile, China on Friday said it was still facing “huge pressure” to meet politically crucial 2017 air quality targets, even as it spelled out more details of a six-month plan to cut smog this winter, Reuters reported.

China has promised to close twice as many factories and enforce bigger emissions cuts in coming months in a bid to avoid a repeat of the near-record levels of choking smog that enveloped key northern regions at the start of the year.

“The completion of the targets and tasks of the (2013) 10-point air quality action plan is still facing huge pressure,” the Environmental Protection Ministry said, citing Environment Minister Li Ganjie, in a summary of an internal meeting.

At the start of this year, emissions of small hazardous particles known as PM2.5 hit near-record highs in the capital Beijing and surrounding Hebei province, prompting the region to take emergency measures to thin traffic and curb industrial activity, Reuters reported.

The Straitstimes


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