BEIJING, Dec. 5 -- The resignation of Xie Zhenhua, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), following a chemical spill that has seriously polluted the Songhua River, is a fresh warning to Chinese officials who think they can get away with blunders or mismanagement.
Xie was the second minister-level official to step down in three years. In 2003, Zhang Wenkang, then health minister, was sacked for covering up the SARS epidemic.
It is not yet usual for officials to acknowledge their mistakes and resign in similar circumstances.
The departures of Zhang and Xie indicate the central leadership intends to make officials stepping down an institutionalized practice following serious professional mistakes made either by officials themselves or by the departments they lead.
In similar cases in the past, only those directly responsible for accidents could be held accountable. Heads of the related departments would normally come away unscathed although poor management was often the underlying reason for specific accidents.
Life will not be so easy for officialdom any more. Bosses are increasingly aware they must do their job well to avoid blunders.
In the Songhua River toxic spill case, the SEPA had obviously been slow to investigate and disclose information.
Officials in Jilin Province where the explosion and toxic spill took place lied about the spill at first, complicating plans for tackling the accident.
Once the truth was revealed, SEPA officials continued to defend their silence about the dangers posed by the toxic spill.
In a notice issued on Friday, the State Council bombarded the SEPA because of its partial responsibility.
A key figure has already paid the price. Now other managers must be identified at the provincial level and at the company that caused the explosion and tried to cover up the truth in the first place.
There are precedents for the sacking of local officials over similar accidents. Last year, a county head in Beijing was removed after a stampede that caused 37 deaths. The mayor of Jilin City resigned because of a fire in a department store that killed 54.
The public and other officials are waiting for word about the fate of local officials who behaved irresponsibly during the Songhua River crisis. Further resignations or sackings seem very likely.
Because of the magnitude of the accident, this case will certainly serve as a vivid lesson in accountability for local officials. Enditem
(Source: China Daily)