May 14, 2008 / 10:56 AM / in 9 years

China quake damage tied to corruption-expert

BEIJING, May 14 (Reuters) - Corruption and lax enforcement of stringent building codes could be important factors behind many of the collapsed buildings in China’s worst earthquake in decades, an expert said on Wednesday.

Monday’s 7.9 magnitude tremor levelled factories, homes, schools and hospitals across China’s southwest Sichuan province, killing nearly 15,000 people. The toll is expect to rise since many thousands are still trapped under rubble.

“Enforcement costs money and local officials at many levels are involved,” Ashley Howlett, a partner with Jones Day, who heads the Greater China construction practice, told Reuters in an interview.

“There is a lot of corruption,” said Howlett, who is involved with all aspects of the design and construction process and has written a book on China’s construction laws.

“China’s building codes are very clear,” he said. “If a similar earthquake hit near Beijing I don’t think you would see this kind of damage.”

His comments echo similar complaints aimed at China in the wake of recent product safety and healthcare scares that alarmed consumers around the world.

Chinese builders are often forced to use a series of local subcontractors, a practice that leads to shortcuts and the use of substandard materials as each contractor takes his share of the project’s budget, said Howlett.

“But such subcontracting is not allowed in China,” he said.

The quake is the worst to hit China since 1976 when up to 300,000 died in the northeast city of Tangshan. (Reporting by Kirby Chien; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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