June 22, 2018 / 3:23 AM / in 10 months

China cracks down on 'perfunctory' officials in pollution fight

A man collects recyclablesr from an alley as smoke billows from the chimney of a factory in rural Gaoyi county, known for its ceramics production, near Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, China, December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/Files

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China is cracking down on officials who engage in perfunctory, or even fraudulent, environmental protection work as it bids to force local authorities to go the extra mile to fight pollution, the environment ministry said in notices issued this week.

Inspectors have been ordered to look out for examples of “perfunctory”, “superficial” or “fraudulent” environmental rectifications, and will tackle bureaucratic box-ticking and actions that pursue form instead of substance.

China’s four-year war on pollution has become a test of political loyalty for local officials, with President Xi Jinping vowing in May to use the full might of the Communist Party to clean up the country’s soil, sky and rivers.

Inspectors have been combing the country in the last three weeks to see how authorities in China’s 31 provinces and regions have handled thousands of environmental violations uncovered during a central government probe launched in 2015.

The Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) said 641 firms have already been fined a total of 58 million yuan ($8.92 million) in the first half of June for failing to properly rectify violations, with 58 people detained. A second round of inspections is under way.

In one example of the kind of violation uncovered, the ministry said on Thursday that the city of Qujing in southwest China’s Yunnan province had failed to implement plans to treat and dispose of 328,000 tonnes of heavy metal residues produced by the Yunnan Luoping Zinc and Electricity Corp. The waste has contaminated upper reaches of the Pearl river.

Yunnan Luoping did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but vowed in a Thursday stock exchange filing to speed up its rectification work.

The MEE also accused authorities across China of fraudulently distorting pollution data, responding too slowly to pollution complaints and taking damaging “short cuts” to try to resolve problems.

($1 = 6.4993 yuan)

Reporting by David Stanway; Additional reporting by Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

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