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No smoke without fire

  • Source: Global Times
  • [08:27 December 28 2010]
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Before that on November 26, 13 construction industry staff including four welders were rounded up and held responsible by Shanghai authorities. Two mid-level bosses of local construction companies were named, photographed and loudly identified by police authorities as the guilty parties, with their role reported extensively by Shanghai and national media.

Victims told the Global Times that so far all those arrested by the Second Branch of People's Procuratorate were "small potatoes."

"It's meaningless for us because what we pursue is a full report with clear results of a transparent investigation into the responsibility of all aspects of the accident," Wang said, "not just the authorities rounding up a few scapegoats as a perfunctory consolation."

Built in 1998, the Jiaozhou residential building was one of three neighboring buildings undergoing special insulation work expected to finish by the end of the year.

Workers had been installing heat-retaining materials on the exterior wall of the building to reduce energy wastage.

One key detail to emerge from media investigations has been that energy consumption counted toward the promotion prospects of officials: a pollutants reduction assessment is cited in the country's 11th Five Year Plan published by the State Council at the end of 2007.

Career opportunities

Local government chiefs would be dismissed if they failed to achieve the target, according to the terms of this assessment.

Energy saving is also a core part of the country's 2005-2010 11th Five Year Plan, aiming to reduce the country's energy consumption by 20 percent per unit of GDP by the end of 2010.

A 15.61 percent reduction had been achieved by the country at the end of last year, according to Jie Zhenghua, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission.

"It's not an easy job to get done within the few remaining months," Jie said at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Tianjin on October 9.

Indeed.

Shanghai municipal government invested 4.6 billion yuan ($692 million) from 2005 to 2010 on energy projects to ensure all new buildings achieved 65 percent savings by the end of the year.

The plan was to shave another 5 percent off energy consumption by the end of this year: The Ministry of Urban- Rural Development published a notice to local government on July 14 stressing all public buildings must slash energy consumption by 5 percent compared with that of last year and that this percentage would count toward the assessment of officials.

The race was on.

Some 30 million square meters of older Shanghai buildings such as Jiaozhou were targeted for renovation to be completed by the year end.

Just as pressure was climaxing on hitting these ambitious energy targets, the six-month Expo called a halt to construction work, leaving a two-month sprint to the finish.

Dozens of buildings in their compound were also receiving identical renovation as Jiaozhou, said an official living in the Tianlin Xincun residential compound in Xuhui district who refused to reveal his name.

After the fire, all work has stopped, he said. In the meantime, residents continue to reside amid scaffolding, deadly chemicals and dangerous construction materials.

"The government's original intention was good, but they never really thought it through," said Wang Wei, chief engineer of the Shanghai Engineering Science Research Institute.

A week before the Jiaozhou disaster, Shanghai fire authorities staged their largest-ever drill. Fire-proofing Bureau Director Chen Fei made a memorable announcement at the press conference on November 9 that Shanghai "certainly had the ability to handle any kind of fire effectively and quickly," including fires on buildings taller than 300 meters.

The 28-story Jiaozhou building is 85 meters high.

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