BEIJING (Reuters) - A scathing report on corruption at the company that built China’s $59-billion Three Gorges dam, the world’s biggest hydropower scheme, has reignited public anger over a project funded through a special levy paid by all citizens.
The report by the ruling Communist Party’s anti-graft watchdog last week found that some officials at the Three Gorges Corporation, set up in 1993 to run the scheme, were guilty of nepotism, shady property deals and dodgy bidding procedures.
Between 1992 and 2009, all citizens had to pay a levy built into power prices across China to channel money to the dam’s construction, a project overshadowed by compulsory relocations of residents and environmental concerns.
“The relatives and friends of some leaders interfered with construction projects, certain bidding was conducted secretly ... and some leaders illicitly occupied multiple apartments,” the graft watchdog said on its website(www.ccdi.gov.cn).
The Three Gorges Corporation published a statement on its website on Tuesday saying it would look into the issues the probe raised, and strictly punish any corrupt conduct and violations of the law and party discipline.
The accusations - made as part of President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on deep-rooted corruption - have spread rapidly across China’s popular Twitter-like service Sina Weibo, and some of China’s more outspoken newspapers have weighed in too.
Time-Weekly, a newspaper based in southern China’s Guangzhou city, this week revealed further details of the graft.
In one case, the newspaper reported, a company bidding for a construction project related to the dam area was told to pay a bribe of one million yuan ($163,200) by members of the hydropower giant’s bidding evaluation panel.
“Because of its fully state-owned background ... it was given special ‘protection’, and for years was practically free of supervision and regulations,” the newspaper wrote.
The Southern Metropolitan Daily called in an editorial for the full weight of the law to be applied to a firm that has sucked up so many national resources.
“The entire strength of China converged on building this one massive project,” it wrote. “Enormous sums went into it, great powers were bestowed. But the oversight over these powers which should have been there, was not.”
On Weibo, the topic ranks among the most widely discussed subjects.
“Did the Three Gorges fund paid by us all on every electricity bill actually go to feed dogs?” wrote one user.
“Why did the Three Gorges Corporation, fed and nurtured by us all, become an ‘unifilal son’?” asked another user.
This is not the first time the company - and the project - have come in for criticism.
Late last year, soon after the party sent its graft inspection team into the Three Gorges Corporation, a senior official involved in “follow-up” work on the dam was fired for “suspected serious disciplinary violations”, the usual euphemism for corruption.
In 2011, then-premier Wen Jiabao presided over a government meeting on the dam which said that though the scheme did provide benefits, it had created a myriad of urgent problems, from the relocation of more than a million residents to risks of geological disasters.
And back in 2000, six years before the project was complete, authorities busted a ring of officials who siphoned off hundreds of millions of yuan in resettlement funds.
($1=6.1284 Chinese yuan)
Editing by Clarence Fernandez