Dereliction of duty blamed for many of the violations, national watchdog says
More than 900 officials have been held to account for violations that were found in a central environmental inspection last year, the country's top pollution watchdog said on Thursday.
The officials were involved in 92 violations in seven provincial regions, including Shanxi and Hunan provinces and Tianjin municipality, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment said in a statement released to the media.
The violations were found after a third batch of central environmental inspection teams－all headed by ministerial level officials－visited the regions from April to May 2017. Violators were transferred to provincial authorities for further investigation and punishment.
Of the officials, 698 were punished by administrative or Party disciplinary agencies, including receiving demerits or warnings, according to the release.
Officials who receive such punishments may be barred from promotion for a period of time.
The statement also said that 189 officials had been summoned and another 22 had been transferred to judicial authorities. It added that the punished officials are from local committees of the Communist Party of China, local governments, State-owned enterprises and public institutes.
According to the inspection teams, dereliction of duty is to blame for many of the 92 environmental violations that were found. Some officials violated laws and regulations to give the green light to development projects.
Tianjin, for example, punished 83 officials for 11 environmental violations. In one case, 17 officials were punished because they failed to follow through on the construction of garbage treatment facilities as planned in five districts, which postponed the biosafety disposal of a large amount of waste and resulted in the illegal disposal of landfill materials.
Wang Chunxia, a former prefecture-level official in the Tianjin landscape authority, which oversees construction of garbage treatment plants, was given a warning within the Party, and Xu Liqun, former head of Tianjin's household waste treatment center, was given a serious warning within the Party. Both have been shifted to other posts unrelated to waste treatment.
In a media release published on Thursday, the Tianjin government asked all of its officials to learn from these violations and strengthen their efforts to control air, soil and water pollution.
It also vowed to hold environmental violators accountable in the strictest manner to ensure full implementation of the central government's environmental policies.
"The central environmental inspection has played an important role in promoting a sense of duty within local governments for safeguarding the environment," said Ma Yong, secretary-general of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation.
Officials of local governments have been attaching more importance to environmental protection, and the inspections will hold them accountable if their failures lead to environmental violations, he said.
However, Ma said, detailed rules on the conduct of investigations and assignment of responsibility for environmental violations are needed to ensure that are punished the right people.