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. Corruption fears as world gives billions for China quake

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) May 28, 2008
People around the world have reached deep into their pockets to help survivors of China's devastating earthquake, but fears are growing corruption will mean not all donations reach the millions in need.

In the two weeks since the quake that rocked southwestern Sichuan province, leaving more than 87,000 people dead or missing, a staggering 34.79 billion yuan (five billion dollars) in donations has been collected at home and abroad.

However, reports have already emerged of diverted aid supplies or scams being launched to grab a piece of the largesse.

Corruption is rampant in China, both in government ranks and throughout society, as the country ploughs through its development boom without a free press or an independent judiciary.

President Hu Jintao has repeatedly warned that corruption is one of the biggest threats to the legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party.

With the eyes of the world on China's relief effort, the government has repeatedly warned that any corruption involving the relief money would be dealt with harshly.

On Wednesday, the party's anti-graft chief said officials would receive "quick, strict, and harsh penalties" if found guilty of corrupt practices that impact the earthquake relief effort.

"Making a profit from a national calamity by withholding and embezzling quake relief funds and supplies goes against the principles of justice," He Guoqiang, secretary of the party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, was quoted as saying by state-run Xinhua news agency.

"Once such misconduct is spotted, it must be dealt with quickly and harshly and laid bare in public."

The Civil Affairs Ministry has also sought to emphasise its efforts in ensuring relief money is not wasted.

"The funds collected by relevant government agencies or the treasury must not be drastically reduced by administrative costs," civil affairs ministry spokesman Yu Jianliang has said.

Aid charities must publish the percentage of donations used for such expenses, he added.

Most of the aid donations are being funnelled through the Chinese Red Cross, the non-governmental China Charity Federation or various governmental groups, the ministry said on its website.

About a third of the five billion dollars in donations has already reached the disaster zone, according to the ministry.

However, authorities have already uncovered several instances of misuse of funds.

In the quake-devastated city of Mianyang, the People's Daily reported 10 cases of tents being used by people whose homes had not been destroyed.

In the city of Deyang, government officials were found hiding cases of milk, biscuits and drinks in a store run by their relatives, the website wenxuecity.com reported -- prompting a near-riot by thousands of angry victims.

Another case involved a policeman in Chengdu, capital of quake-hit Sichuan province, who was accused of commandeering refugee tents. The case caused a protest by hundreds of people, the Nanfang Metropolitan Daily reported.

The instances of aid misuse have sparked an outcry in online forums.

"If corruption becomes endemic, it will be just as dangerous as the earthquake itself," said one man from northeastern China in a forum hosted by Sohu.com.

An editorial in the People's Daily, the Communist Party's mouthpiece, on Thursday said graft concerns would only increase as the flow of long-term government money for reconstruction picks up.

"Reconstruction funding is estimated to reach several hundred billion yuan, and the efficient use of such a large sum of public money is a cause of public concern," it said.

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US warships with aid for Myanmar could depart soon: admiral
Washington (AFP) May 28, 2008
US warships carrying relief supplies could leave the waters off Myanmar within days unless its military government relents and accepts greater US assistance, the top US commander in the region said Wednesday.

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