Incinerator 'Lacks Transparency'

Residents angered by plans to build a waste incinerator in southern China demand transparency from project backers.
2009-12-04
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Demonstrators protest the planned construction of a waste incineration plant in the Panyu district of Guangzhou, Nov. 23, 2009.
Demonstrators protest the planned construction of a waste incineration plant in the Panyu district of Guangzhou, Nov. 23, 2009.
Photo provided by demonstrator.

HONG KONG—Homeowners in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have called on top provincial officials to make public their interests in a planned waste incinerator in Panyu city, which sparked widespread opposition and protest last month.

The investment company planning the disputed project, Guangzhou Environmental Investment, is controlled by two companies with probable links to high-ranking government officials in the provincial capital, Guangzhou, they said.

"After Guangri Group was awarded this huge contract, the remaining 49 percent was transferred to Lixin Enterprises," a homeowner based in the affected area said.

"This project could stand to earn 50 billion yuan (U.S. $7.32 billion) over the next 25 years, so why are they taking such a big stake from it?"

"Neither of these companies is in the industry. Lixin is a telecommunications company," said the campaigner, who asked to remain anonymous.

He said the local government's connection to such huge potential profits had drawn widespread criticism online, particularly because the incinerator would earn 140 yuan (U.S. $20) per ton in government subsidies for every ton of trash burned, which could amount to 480,000 yuan (U.S. $70,000) per day, or 173 million yuan (U.S. $25 million) each year.

Campaigners say that Guangzhou Environmental Investment is 51 percent-owned by elevator and equipment manufacturer Guangri Group, which is wholly owned by the Guangzhou municipal government, and would be given the right to operate the incinerator if it is built.

It is 49 percent-owned by Lixin Enterprises, a Guangzhou-based technology company which won contracts to supply smart cards for city-wide integrated transportation systems across the province, including Guangzhou's Yangcheng Card.

An employee who answered the phone at the Guangri Group headquarters declined to answer queries. "Please speak with the news and propaganda department," he said.

Calls to the Guangzhou municipal propaganda department went unanswered during office hours Thursday.

Campaign to continue

A homeowner from the Bijiayuan housing complex in Guangzhou surnamed Wu said the campaign against the incinerator would continue for as long as local authorities remained unclear about their involvement with the project.

"Given what [deputy secretary-general] Lu Zhiyi has said to us, we think [our suspicions] are basically correct," he said. "That's why he hasn't dared to deny it."

"Otherwise, why are they saying they will postpone the whole thing in all the headlines today? In China, this means that they want to...drag out [the process]."

Lu Zhiyi told a news conference on Nov. 22 that Guangzhou would continue to push ahead with plans for waste incinerators not only in Panyu, but also in other Guangzhou cities like Conghua, Zengcheng and Huadu.

Hundreds of protesters—mostly middle-class homeowners—staged an impromptu march through downtown Guangzhou at the end of November, calling on the government to listen to their concerns over plans to build a waste incinerator on their doorstep.

The protesters' calm, apparent sensitivity to media coverage and use of online social media tools such as Twitter showed the authorities the potential power that China's burgeoning middle classes wield in influencing public opinion.

The local government subsequently agreed to hold off construction of the plant until conducting environmental studies.

China's official Xinhua news agency quoted officials as saying that the government would carry out a questionnaire-based survey and public hearing to solicit public opinion on environmental assessments linked to the project.

Original reporting in Cantonese by Hai Nan. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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