End cheating in en­vi­ron­men­tal ap­praisals

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - JIXIAN COUNTY IN TIAN­JIN HAS BEEN RUN­NING A WASTE-TO-EN­ERGY PLANT

since April, af­ter lo­cal res­i­dents ap­par­ently gave it a green light two years ago. In its en­vi­ron­men­tal impact eval­u­a­tion, the lo­cal bu­reau of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion said 200 ques­tion­naires had been dis­trib­uted in the 10 vil­lages nearby and 96.5 per­cent of the re­spon­dents had said “yes” to the plant. Yet re­cently, res­i­dents from six of the vil­lages said they never saw the ques­tion­naire or re­ceived any other ad­vance no­tice of the plant. Bei­jing News says it is highly pos­si­ble that the power plant fab­ri­cated the sig­na­tures of vil­lagers and sub­mit­ted a false report to the lo­cal bu­reau of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion:

This is not the only case of its kind. There have been many re­ports of en­ter­prises fal­si­fy­ing such ques­tion­naire results; in some cases, they even “ob­tained” the sig­na­tures of peo­ple who died in the 1990s. This is not funny. Be­hind each case, the health and even the lives of lo­cal res­i­dents might be put at risk.

One of the main rea­sons for this is a loop­hole in the law. Ac­cord­ing to the cur­rent reg­u­la­tion on pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion in en­vi­ron­men­tal impact eval­u­a­tion, pub­lic opin­ion must be sought in ad­vance for pro­grams that might have a se­ri­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal impact, but the reg­u­la­tion does not spec­ify how. In prac­tice, it is al­ways the en­ter­prises that “so­licit” pub­lic opin­ions, and some of them cheat in the process be­cause a “yes” re­sult is es­sen­tial for their in­ter­ests.

It is time the ju­di­ciary strength­ened the reg­u­la­tion. The lo­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion agen­cies, not the en­ter­prises con­cerned, should be re­spon­si­ble for so­lic­it­ing pub­lic opin­ions. Be­sides, the en­ter­prises cheating in their so­lic­i­ta­tion of pub­lic opin­ions should be pun­ished, so that others do not dare to flout the law in the future.

The process of pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion should also be made more trans­par­ent. In the Tian­jin case, when some vil­lagers ap­plied to see the 200 sig­na­tures, they were told by the lo­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion bu­reau that the sig­na­tures are con­fi­den­tial. This is ridicu­lous and will curb trans­parency. The higher au­thor­i­ties need to in­ves­ti­gate and pun­ish those re­spon­si­ble if they find there has been any cheating.

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