Three Gorges Probe

Beijing court rejects Three Gorges lawsuit filed by Ren Xinghui

(Translated by Probe International), from Outlook Weekly, published April 12, 2010

(April 17, 2010) His bid to obtain Three Gorges Fund information may have been thwarted but applicant Ren Xinghui vows to carry on.

On October 12, 2009, Ren Xinghui, as an ordinary citizen of China, submitted an application to the Ministry of Finance for information on the Three Gorges Project Construction Fund (the Three Gorges Fund). His submission was rejected, leaving Mr. Ren with no choice but to seek judicial relief.

“The Three Gorges project is not only one of the key construction projects in this country, but it involves government revenue and expenditure. The project is nearing completion, so it is time for the authority to give us the information on how the money raised for the project was spent,” Ren Xinghui said.

The Ministry of Finance rejected Mr. Ren’s application on November 16, saying information concerning the Fund’s revenue and expenses for 2008 had already been made available by the Ministry on its website. The Ministry did not provide any information for other years, however.

Even in the early 1980s, many worried the proposed dam would become a “fishing project” and hotly debated the issue at the time the feasibility study for the Three Gorges project was underway.

Years later, in 2007, that fear was confirmed by an audit report released by the National Audit Office claiming that, “improper contract management [had] increased project costs by 488 million yuan RMB (US$61 million).”

Mo Yuchuan, a professor at Renmin University’s School of Law, and one of the experts who drafted China’s “The Regulations on the Disclosure of Government Information,” told Outlook Weekly, “Information on these funds should definitely be disclosed to the public, and the government department concerned should voluntarily disclose the information in the first place.”

Based on the Regulation, which came into force May 1, 2008: “An administrative organ shall voluntarily disclose the government information satisfying any of the following basic requirements: (1) Information concerning the vital interests of citizens, legal persons or other organizations; (2) Information that should be widely known by the general public or concerns the participation of the general public,” and “Citizens, legal persons or other organizations may, in light of their special needs for production, living or scientific research, apply to the departments under the State Council, the local people’s governments at various levels and the departments of the local people’s government at or above the county level for accessing the relevant government information.”

The Ministry of Finance rejected Ren Xinghui’s application, claiming the information did not directly affect Mr. Ren’s own production, domestic, or research activities. Mr. Ren had, however, specified “scientific research” for the part of the Ministry’s application form marked, “use of the information required”.

According to Professor Mo, when the disclosure Regulation was originally drafted, a proposal allowing applicants to submit requests for information deemed of public interest, was put forward as a way to save money. It was otherwise thought too expensive for administrative departments to simply disclose public information voluntarily. In Ren Xinghui’s case, he had applied for Three Gorges Fund information that fell into the category of public oversight. “So his request should be satisfied,” the Professor says.

On October 13 of last year, one day after he submitted an application to the Ministry of Finance, Ren Xinghui also submitted applications to the TGPCC (Three Gorges Project Construction Committee) of the State Council and the Three Gorges Corporation requesting disclosure of cost information respectively. Both parties rejected Mr. Ren’s request for different reasons.[fn]The TGPCC said it was not responsible for the issue, while the Three Gorges Corporation said as the company is not a public enterprise there is no reason to offer any information.[/fn]

Demonization or transparency?

On March 18, 2010, this reporter sent letters to the Ministry of Finance and the Three Gorges Corporation[fn]The Three Gorges Company has changed its name to the Three Gorges Group. The author uses both in this article.[/fn] respectively, requesting interviews on the Three Gorges Fund and other matters.

Soon after that, the Press Centre for the Three Gorges Group issued its reply by phone: “The Three Gorges Fund is a special fund in the state budget, and the Three Gorges Group is only one of the units which uses the fund, so we feel it is inconvenient to be interviewed on your questions.”

This reporter insisted that as one of the units making use of the Fund, the Three Gorges Group could talk about the part of the Fund it did use, as well as other financial sources the Group accessed. No further response has been forthcoming to date.

On April 7, the Ministry of Finance called Outlook Weekly, to follow up, saying that it was not convenient to have an interview on the issue.

“We have no choice but to seek the truth on our own, by putting the pieces of the openly published materials together, in an effort to see the whole picture of the cost of building the Three Gorges dam project.” This is the final sentence of the unpublished report, “The Cost of Three Gorges Project,” edited by Guo Yushan, director of the Beijing-based Transition Institute, and one of Ren Xinghui’s colleagues.

At a news conference by the State Council’s Press Office in late November 2007, Pan Jiazheng, former deputy head of the Leading Group for the Feasibility Study for the Three Gorges project, criticized a group of people for “demonizing” the project.

Nevertheless, on several occasions, Pan Jiazheng has offered his thanks to critics, and said he respected their different opinions. Pan Jiazheng has made that sentiment clear to the media a number of times, notes Outlook Weekly.

As Guo Yushan points out: “The best way to avoid demonization of the Three Gorges dam is to give all parties a fair platform on which they are able to voice their opinions and even debate the issue. With the Three Gorges project approaching completion, a more important way to avoid demonization of the dam project is to be transparent.”

On March 11 of this year, Lu Youmei, former general manager of Three Gorges Corporation, expressed his views to Outlook Weekly: “Many opponents don’t have a good understanding of the Three Gorges project,” he said. Some have even refused to discuss it in a positive manner, he said, although he “hoped those who oppose the Three Gorge project would take a look at the dam site someday.”

Both Guo Yushan and Ren Xinghui told Outlook Weekly “they have been looking forward to having such an opportunity to have serious discussions with anybody.”

The TG Fund quietly “transformed”

While Ren Xinghui was working hard on his request for disclosure of information regarding the Three Gorges Fund, the Fund, it seems, was quietly “transformed” without anyone noticing.

According to the “2010 Central Government Budget for Funds,” posted on the Ministry of Finance’s website, the budgeted revenue for the Fund in 2010 was 1 billion yuan RMB, but the budgeted expenditure was 4.49 billion yuan, only 5.1% and 22.5% of the previous year’s revenue and expenditure, respectively.

At the same time, a new line item entered the budget table for the “State Major Water Project Construction Fund.” Both revenue and expenditure was listed as 18.8 billion yuan in 2010. This was a piece of information that had never been disclosed before.

It turns out that, on December 31, 2009, the Ministry of Finance issued a “Management Method for the State Key Water Project Construction Fund,” approved by the State Council, which states: “The Three Gorges Construction Fund will be smoothly transformed into the State Key Water Project Construction Fund, and the current collection policy for the Three Gorges Construction Fund will remain basically unchanged.” It also states that “the Method will be implemented on January 1, 2010 and the Three Gorges Construction Fund will no longer be collected.”

Accordingly, from January 1, 2010, onwards – with the basic completion of the Three Gorges dam project in place – the Three Gorges Fund did stop collecting revenues, but the fee all national power users must pay remains and will continue in the name of the newly established State Key Water Project Construction Fund. The collection period is 10 years, and the money will be used “to deal with problems in the period following the completion of the Three Gorges project.”

Ren Xinghui had heard rumours that the fund would be converted into another funds. So, in February 2009, he submitted a letter to the NPC (National People’s Congress), appealing to the State Council to abolish the Three Gorges Fund because completion of the dam project was finally imminent, and cancellation would reduce the tariff burden people faced. But he also argued for its abolition, in particular, “to prevent the [Three Gorges] Fund from being converted to another fund for use on other purposes.”

Yu Guangyuan, former director of the National People’s Congress’s Bill Office of the Budgetary Working Committee, told Outlook Weekly that, unlike taxes that require  approval from the country’s legislature, the central government has the authority to establish, adjust, and cancel national funds.

When asked what he plans to do next, sitting on a bench outside the Beijing First Intermediate People’s Court, Ren Xinghui said, “If I receive a written order [from the Court] telling me my lawsuit was not accepted, I will appeal.” He also plans to submit an application to the State Power Grid Company for information on funds spent on transmission projects related to the Three Gorges dam. “If my application is rejected again, we will have no choice but to continue our work putting the pieces [of publicly published information] together to get the complete picture [of the real cost of the Three Gorges dam project].”

Tang Yaoguo, Based on an article that appeared in Outlook Weekly (Liaowang xinwen zhoukan), April 17, 2010

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