Three Gorges Probe

Behind the dark curtains: Battle lines drawn as peasants name names and officials cover up

by Patricia Adams

November 5, 2001

An exclusive Three Gorges Probe report reveals extraordinary new detail about endemic corruption, debauchery and an underworld that now plagues the Three Gorges dam resettlement operation.

Calling it a “cesspool of iniquity,” the report by a journalist in Chongqing municipality shines a spotlight on one township in Yunyang county, to expose who is embezzling funds and how. The author also describes the savage knife attack on one migrant leader who refused to be intimidated into silence.

Yunyang became the focus of attention earlier this year after peasants from the county travelled to Beijing to present evidence of Three Gorges-related corruption to top officials, but instead were arrested for “disturbing public order” and “leaking state secrets.” The four men remain in custody in Yunyang.

The report explains how, to win approval from the National People’s Congress in 1992, authorities underestimated the number of people who would be moved to make way for the Three Gorges dam, the world’s largest. After the project was approved, however, local officials inflated the numbers to be resettled in order to obtain more funding from the central government. “Indeed, the real number of migrants is still unknown,” the report’s author writes.

Adding to the confusion and simmering anger among the legitimate migrants, local resettlement officials have used all manner of unchecked techniques to siphon off resettlement funds for their personal benefit.

For example, people who live outside the soon-to-be-filled reservoir area – some as far as 1,000 km away – have been registered as migrants. They collect payments fraudulently, and pay off the officials who bestowed the migrant status on them. Two officials in one Yunyang village allegedly “transformed” 70 such people into migrants and received almost US$10,000 for their services.

Meanwhile, other migrants who attempt to collect their resettlement funds discover that their names have been crossed off the list, implying they have already collected their funds. In fact, local resettlement officials, treating the resettlement funds under their administration as their personal bank accounts, have already withdrawn the money for themselves. This method of embezzlement is called “account-closed resettlement.”

Then, peasants who are stonewalled by authorities when they attempt to collect their resettlement money are forced to pay illegal “commission fees” to resettlement officials. When this doesn’t work, the migrants hire “resettlement dealers,” who, through connections, secure the money for their migrant clients. The resettlement dealers’ fees are so large that migrants typically receive only 30 per cent of their compensation.

Local officials, the report’s author writes, “view the Three Gorges resettlement operation as a great opportunity for the illicit accumulation of funds.”

Blame for the endemic corruption, the author concludes, lies with local Communist Party leaders, who have set a bad example by treating resettlement funds as their personal exchequers and by resorting to blackmail and underworld forces to silence their peasant critics and evade scrutiny by higher-level authorities.

The author cites the example of one official – Tan Heping, secretary of the Communist Party of Guling township – who was honoured as a model resettlement organizer and promoted within the Party. In fact, the author says, Mr. Tan used his position of power and access to resettlement funds to line his own pockets, to cover up his alleged criminal activities and to blackmail officials who attempted to investigate rumours of wrongdoing.

The author also describes the rough treatment meted out to Li Weidong, a migrant leader who refused to cease protesting against the corruption despite threats to his life. According to the author, Mr. Tan warned Mr. Li: “We will hire underworld thugs to deal with you if you continue appealing.”

Mr. Li, who did not cower, was subsequently attacked by four thugs and suffered serious knife wounds. He survived, and his attackers received insignificant sentences.

The report’s author also laments the unfair treatment meted out to four migrants who were arrested in March for trying to present details of the extensive wrongdoing to officials in Beijing. Press reports a few months ago suggested that He Kechang, Ran Chongxin, Jiang Qingshan and Wen Dingchun could expect to face long prison sentences, but their exact fate is unknown.

Corrupt officials, meanwhile, get away scot-free and a “model” migrant received an all-expenses-paid trip to Beijing to sing the praises of the resettlement program. “Who committed crimes?” the author asks pointedly.

Three Gorges resettlement “has reached a critical stage,” the author writes. The “greed, corruption and crime” of resettlement officials now faces the “outrage, resentment and grief suffered by hundreds and thousands of migrants.” While the migrants fight to pull back the curtain to expose the corruption to the Chinese people and the world, the government and project authorities are covering up serious scandals “behind dark curtains,” the author writes.

“Enough propaganda! It is time for the genuine migrants’ own representatives to be heard and for Premier Zhu Rongji to hear the truth about Three Gorges resettlement,” the author concludes.

Link to Behind the dark curtains: Exclusive report on Three Gorges resettlement
For more information contact Patricia Adams, Publisher, Three Gorges Probe, at (1-416) 964-9223 (ext. 227) or at PatriciaAdams@nextcity.com

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