China has taken great strides to cut the pollution problem at its root. However, its local governments find ways to get past their obligations to the environment. Getting past the pollution inspectors from the capital, Beijing, has not been easy for these apparently lax local leaders.
Reports have come in from the environment ministry that falsified information was presented to them. It is said that the local officials have often worked with companies to cheat the system and cover up their inaction. As one of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s main policy thrusts, environmental protection has also been a focus for local governments to act on. The evidence collected by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment was seen in fake meeting plans. According to Cao Liping, this was due to how often officials did not respond to these concerns on time and thus produce false reports to make up for this. Others fabricate meeting notes that were intended to gauge the progress of targets met in environmental protection for the inspectors to see.
While cover-ups do happen, there have also been instances of corruption in the grassroots, with over 63 cases happening in the environment protection system involving 118 people.
Tampering of Data
There were also attempts to water down the results, a few of which were quite literal. Officials in Shizuishan, located in the Ningxia region to the northwest, attempted to better the results in 2017. They ordered the local sanitation workers to clean and spray the bureau with an anti-smog water cannon. This was done to lessen the pollutants that the building’s monitoring device had found. Though this would normally be covered up on a warm day, inspectors found layers of ice around the building the next day. This led to the station chief and other officials to face sanctions for tampering with the monitoring process. This was also done in Linfen, Shanxi when bureau chief Zhang Wenqing and a number of associates had altered the monitoring data when heavy pollution was present. This had happened a hundred times between April 2017 and March 2018, causing distorted monitoring data to come out on over 53 different occasions. Zhang was imprisoned for two years because of destroying information on the computer.
Cao noted that the problem of the grassroots is quite difficult enough but considering the collaboration between corrupt officials and companies, it is clear that environmental protection policies have been derailed. The schemes they conduct are often hidden by technology and made more difficult by the inexperience of some officials with new technologies. The ministry is doing its best to combat this problem, with Cao pointing out that falsification of monitoring data is a criminal offense.
Wang Canfa from the China University of Political Science and Law notes that the fake data controversy will not only call into question government proceedings and policy trajectories but also its own ability to control the situation. Another environmental expert from Renmin University, Zhou Ke, explained that officials often cheated due to how the inspection affected their careers and that good results could lead to better career outcomes for them.