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Iron fist hits coalmining malpractice
    BEIJING, Aug. 25 -- A central government release early this week vows to close all unqualified collieries as well as promising to root out the behind-the-scenes deals between government officials and mine owners.

    All the illegal coalmines and those that fail to meet the safe production requirements by the end of this year are to be closed for good, said an urgent announcement issued by the General Office of the State Council on Monday.

    Those coal mines that fail in terms of production safety are only to be given one chance to put right the shortfalls in work safety management, it said. All the rectification efforts must be completed by the end of this year.

    Li Yizhong, head of the State Administration for Work Safety (SAWS), said governments at all levels must strictly carry out the orders of the central government and officials who have abused their duties will be given corresponding punishment.

    The SAWS is drafting concrete measures to implement the central government's order, said the administration spokesman Huang Yi during a telephone interview.

    Statistics from the work safety watchdog indicate that 1,436 miners were killed in 39 major accidents by August 21 this year.

    More than 60 per cent of the tragedies occurred in coal mines that had been ordered to stop production for work safety alterations, indicating that corruption on the part of local officials was partly responsible for the accidents, said the spokesman.

    In some places, the collusion between government officials and colliery owners makes the work safety situation worse and increases difficulties for work safety departments' efforts to redress the situation, said Huang.

    To turn the situation around, a deadline is also set for those officials who have illegally held stocks of coal mines to right their wrongs.

    Government officials or leaders of the State-owned enterprises must withdraw their shares in the collieries before September 22, said the announcement.

    "Such an announcement will no doubt give a clear warning to those officials who colluded with mine owners," said Wu Zongzhi, vice-director of the National Centre of Safety Science and Technology.

    "But it would have little effect on those who stealthily collaborate with the mine owners," said Wu. "For example, many government officials profiteer from coal mining by using their influence."

    In Wu's opinion, a fundamental way out is to improve the quality of the ranks of the coal miners, by strengthening training on work safety knowledge as well their awareness of the law.

    "Engaged in a high-risk job, the miners are paid too little, which prevents the entry of high-quality workers into this field," he noted.

    Spokesman Huang also told reporters that the State Council is soon to draft another regulation on the prevention of coal mine accidents.

    According to Huang, many provinces have drafted, or are going to promulgate local regulations to curb possible colliery accidents in the future.

    North China's Shanxi Province, a leading coal producer, but also an accident-plagued region, plans to formulate tougher regulations against the activities of illegal coal mines, which are seen as the leading actors in workplace accidents in the province.

    Iron-fisted measures that may be written into the new regulations include severe punishments both for illegal coal mines and senior government officials, according to the provincial government.

    According to the draft regulations, illegal coal mines, which refer to those failing to qualify for production licensing, will be shut down immediately once detected and their illicit incomes will all be confiscated. A fine ranging from one to five times of that illicit income will be charged on each of the illegal collieries.

    If an accident takes place at any outlawed coal mines, an additional fine of 1 million yuan (US$123,000) for each dead worker will be imposed on the owners of the "black" collieries, officials said.

    The 1-million-yuan fine will also be applied for mines that have obtained the required licences but operate beyond their production capacity.

    If more than two illegal collieries are found in a county, the leading official of the county will be sacked, as will related officials in charge of production safety, according to the draft regulations.

    (Source: China Daily)

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