(May 25, 2000) Racked by allegations of mismanagement and corruption, scandal surrounds China’s Three Gorges Dam project once again following two recent exposés involving senior officials and vast sums of missing project funds.
By Lisa Peryman for Probe International
Earlier this year, Three Gorges Industrial Company general manager Dai Lansheng was charged with embezzling billions of yuan after importing dilapidated, used construction equipment, instead of brand-new, fully-functioning machinery. The scam came to light after dam workers complained that the 20-year-old vehicles didn’t work properly and incurred costly repairs – one-third of the US$122-million Dai Lansheng charged to his company for the secondhand purchases, remains unaccounted for.
A more recent funds fiasco involves Jin Wenchao, head of Three Gorges Economic Development Corporation, a company set up to provide support services to the project, who is reported to have vanished, along with more than US$120-million. Jin is alleged to have acquired his nest egg by selling bogus managerial positions to acquaintances for substantial bribes, as well as through the creation of fictitious businesses set up to acquire loans supposedly in support of the Three Gorges Dam development – but the yuan does not stop there. Jin’s son and daughter are also in the hot seat for allegedly borrowing vast amounts of money from their father’s “briefcase companies.”
In the wake of Jin Wenchao’s disappearance, Dai Qing – China’s foremost environmental journalist and long-time critic of the dam – offered her comments on the latest outrage to rock the project, which she describes as “a goldmine for corrupt officials.”
“What interests me is how Jin [Wenchao], a barely-literate 67-year-old, in just eight years, could progress from being a minor staff member at a small county reservoir to become the general manager of the Three Gorges Economic Development Corporation.”
Legend has it that Jin Wenchao was plucked from obscurity and hired by Li Boning, the then Deputy Minister of Water Resources during an inspection tour, and was then promoted through the ranks by Guo Shuyuan, a director of the State Planning Commission which oversees construction of state megaprojects including Three Gorges. Such connections have served Jin well. Even after being arrested in Beijing – Beijing police hauled Jin in for failing to repay debts owed to the China Construction Bank – his bail was posted by the Resettlement Bureau of the State Council’s Three Gorges Construction Committee – his organization’s parent company.
According to Dai Qing, the project’s “black hole”of corruption spiralled out of control after the June 4, 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square. To help repair its bloodied world image following the massacre, the state turned the dam project into a symbol of national glory, the construction of which would herald China’s emergence as a major modern state. Dissident opinions were not permitted publicly which, Dai says, presented officials like Jin Wenchao and Dai Lansheng with a perfect set-up, enabling them to embezzle and misappropriate vast sums of project-related funds.
Dai Qing calculates that the dam’s cost estimates have skyrocketed over the years from US$4.5-billion in the 1980s to around US$24-billion, currently. But a project insider in 1997 estimated the total cost could soar to around US$72-billion, although, says Dai, US$120-billion would not be “sufficient if officials carried on stealing at the rate they have been.”
In March, 53 senior engineers, water management experts and academics appealed to China’s central government to delay filling the Three Gorges reservoir to a maximum of 175 metres right away, to allow people more time to move and scientists more time to study the dam’s effect on navigation and flooding near Chongqing city. Nevertheless, says Dai Qing, dam builders are still pushing for faster completion and maximum output.
Dai Qing says that Three Gorges has become a “fishing project” for corrupt officials like Jin Wenchao and Dai Lansheng: “The larger the project, the more money there is for looters to stuff in their pockets.”
Dai Qing was imprisoned without trial in 1989 for her role in promoting debate in China about the Three Gorges dam. She is the editor of Yangtze! Yangtze!, a compilation of essays by prominent Chinese intellectuals opposed to the Three Gorges dam. In 1998 she released a second book about Three Gorges, The River Dragon Has Come!
For more detail, see back issues of Three Gorges Probe
“Chinese engineers and scientists urge leadership to change Three Gorges dam operating plan,” Three Gorges Probe No. 17, April 26, 2000.
“Three Gorges executive fired for malfeasance,” Three Gorges Probe No. 16, March 24, 2000.
“Chinese officials caught embezzling Three Gorges resettlement funds,” Three Gorges Probe No. 15, February 21, 2000.
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