HONG KONG—A billion dollar cleanup program for China's southern city of Guangzhou ahead of the Asian Games in November has drawn fire from local residents, who say the government is failing to deliver on its promises.
While the Guangzhou authorities have earmarked 7 billion yuan (U.S. $1 billion) for a citywide face-lift ahead of the Games, they have backed down on pledges to close polluting factories, and government contractors are using fake materials akin to a movie set to spruce up buildings near major roads.
"A lot of the materials being used are causing worry, including some of the decorative stuff," a Guangzhou resident surnamed Li said.
"Also, there are the windowsills and the pitched roofs; the quality is really questionable. I have seen some of the materials with my own eyes and the quality is very poor," he said.
Video of the materials showed roof-ridging tiles made from polystyrene and painted on the outside to look like acrylic tiles.
Official media have lauded the roof-building program, which reportedly costs 1,000 yuan per square meter, as a way to improve the city's image without all the expense of rebuilding apartment blocks.
'A new look'
"Many old apartment buildings in south China's Guangzhou City are getting a new look as the city prepares to hold the Asian Games," the official Xinhua news agency reported last week.
"Guangzhou has been replacing about 1,000 old flat roofs with new red roofs made of synthetic resin since the end of 2009," the agency quoted officials from the municipal Commission of Housing and Urban-Rural Development as saying.
While the government is paying for the "acrylic" roof-tiles, top-floor residents are being required to move out during installation.
City official Zhou Weidong told Xinhua that the new roofs would last 25 years.
Li called on the government to make public any tender process and the associated accounts.
"The government's tendering process, purchasing process, and hiring of construction teams has lacked transparency, with the result that we citizens have no idea how much of our money they have actually spent, nor how much any of this stuff really cost them," he said.
Residents are also unhappy that plans to make the city greener, and to move polluting industries out of town ahead of the Games, don't seem to be materializing.
No plans to move
State Environmental Protection Agency deputy chief Zhang Lijun said Tuesday that he is confident the plans to make the Asian Games the greenest ever are on track, including the relocation of the People's Chemicals Factory, the Guangzhou Hengfeng pollution treatment plant, the Guangzhou No.1 Rubber Factory, and the Guangzhou No.2 Cigarette Factory.
But not all the factories seem to be in a hurry to move.
"There are no [plans to move right now]. Perhaps we'll move next year," an employee who answered the phone at the Guangzhou No. 2 Cigarette Factory said.
"There is no need to move now."
A Guangzhou resident surnamed Yang said the government is losing the trust of local people.
"They are changing the things which we thought were settled," Yang said.
"It's probably due to an agreement between the government and the factory owners, because they both have vested interests, so they have hashed out a so-called flexible arrangement or some such thing," he said.
"They are canceling, or postponing, a target that was already set for them, and trying to make it look legal. This is in violation of the principles of environmental protection," Yang said.
The government says its program will include the cleanup of garbage dumps on street corners and new road surfaces in some areas.
In a bid to keep traffic congestion to manageable proportions during the Games, the authorities are giving adult workers five days' paid leave, while students will be off school for 10 days, a strategy also employed during the Beijing 2008 Olympics and the Shanghai World Expo opening.
Security is also getting tight ahead of the event, with guests checking into hotels in the city now required to present identity cards, and entertainment venues subjected to police surveillance to crack down on prostitution, human trafficking, and drug-dealing during the Games.
And residents of apartments overlooking the venue on the Pearl River will be asked to move out of their homes ahead of the opening ceremony, local newspapers reported.
The 16th Asian Games, which is Asia's premier sporting event and part of the global Olympic movement, will run in Guangzhou from Nov. 12-27.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Xin Yu and in Cantonese by Hai Nan. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated from the Chinese and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.