Post-Quake Construction 'Flawed'

Victims of China's 2008 earthquake call for a probe into the quality of their new homes.

quake-305.jpg A farmer stands in front of buildings under construction in Beichuan county, Sichuan province, May 2, 2009.

HONG KONG—Residents of China's southwestern province of Sichuan made homeless by the devastating earthquake of May 12, 2008 have called on the Chinese government to hold an inquiry into the construction of their new homes, which they say are substandard and unsafe.

The residents of Caoba village near the provincial capital Chengdu said the houses, built with some of the billions of yuan earmarked by central government for post-quake reconstruction, are already beginning to crack.

"We are calling on higher levels of government, Party discipline inspection committees, and law enforcement agencies to come out and conduct a fair and impartial investigation into the problems we have raised above," the villagers wrote in an open letter, posted on the Internet and signed by more than 100 residents.

The villagers are complaining of cracks that have appeared in prefabricated concrete slabs, walls, structural concrete beams, and roofs across large areas of new housing constructed in Xiaoyudong township.

Some of the bathrooms and kitchens had already sprung serious water leaks, while structurally important parts of balconies had fallen off in some apartments, the residents said.

"The buildings have only just been completed and already they're showing cracks," one resident said. "We haven't even moved in yet. They are still fitting them out, and already we have these kinds of problems."

"We told [the construction company]. But they have ways of covering this up," he said.

Moving in anyway

Villagers said some of their number had moved in to the apartments in spite of safety concerns.

"They don't know what else to do. Their own houses have been completely demolished," the Caoba resident said.

Villagers have accused the construction company of using substandard and even fake concrete, which was being delivered to the construction site in the middle of the night.

Protests to local government over these allegations have already resulted in clashes between protesters and the authorities, they said.

So far, less than half of the residents have taken up residence in the new buildings.

"It is a very serious matter if there are cracks appearing in reconstruction program buildings," a second Xiaoyudong resident surnamed Ma said.

"Some of the concrete they are using isn't really up to scratch. Now, around 80 or 90 households have moved in. That's about 200 people."

"The biggest worry among ordinary people right now is building safety," he said.

Official response

"We are in an area that was seriously affected by the earthquake disaster. Everybody's house collapsed, and we don't have anywhere to live. We don't have any choice but to move in," he said.

Xiaoyudong Party secretary Cheng Yong said the authorities have responded already to the villagers' concerns.

"On the first appraisal we found no problems with the plastering on the external walls," Cheng said. "That was when they said there were cracks in the buildings."

"The evaluation report is now being prepared. We will see from that what the situation is."

But villagers said the survey was carried out by Chengdu Construction Quality Inspection and Testing Center, which is directly connected to the company that had taken the construction contract, Jiangong Group.

They said the tendering process for the survey of damaged homes, the demolition assessment, and the award of construction contracts for new homes were all riddled with examples of bribery, fraud and nepotism.

Cheng denied the allegations.

"This sort of thing wouldn't happen," he said.

"I know very well what you're talking about. There is a very small minority of people who haven't complied with the reconstruction policy in the disaster region and who have their own reasons for complaining."

"They have accused officials of a whole range of crimes," he said, adding that a finance team had found no financial irregularities relating to the reconstruction projects.

"They have found to start with that all the receipts and registers are perfectly in order. Right now the books are balanced," he said.

He declined villagers' requests that village officials make public their maps and accounting methods related to the reconstruction effort.

"I can't really tell you details about the request to make public our finances and the affairs of village-level government," Cheng said.

Thousands killed

"You probably do things a bit differently over there. Even if I told you, you probably wouldn't understand."

China has handed down jail sentences to two prominent Sichuan activists, Huang Qi and Tan Zuoren, who tried to investigate allegations of shoddy construction, which parents blame for the deaths of thousands of schoolchildren during the earthquake.

According to a government estimate, about 90,000 people died in the quake, including 5,335 schoolchildren, although activists say as many as 10,000 children may have died.

Parents have been forbidden to lodge official complaints over the alleged "tofu buildings," with police continuing to crack down on those who try to bring the issue into the public domain.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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