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Page last updated at 16:16 GMT, Monday, 7 July 2008 17:16 UK

China fights misuse of quake funds

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Residents rise past quake damage in Dujiangyan, Sichuan province, on 28 June
Those who have donated money for rebuilding want to see it used properly

China has launched a massive campaign to ensure earthquake relief funds are not misused by local officials.

Nearly 10,000 auditors have been dispatched to areas of Sichuan hit by the disaster in May, to guarantee money is spent on those who actually need it.

Ordinary Chinese people have donated millions of dollars for earthquake relief, and are unwilling to see this money misspent.

China says there have been no major cases of embezzlement, but admits there are officials willing to make money out of others' distress.

Chinese leaders say corruption is one of the country's biggest problems - and recently unveiled a five-year plan to fight it.

Corruption is endemic in many areas of society - even doctors are bribed by patients desperate to ensure they receive the best treatment.

'Ghosts'

There was an unprecedented response to the Sichuan earthquake by ordinary people, who have donated about 51 billion yuan ($7.4bn; 3.8bn).

Two girls rest at a temporary shelter in Beichuan county, Sichuan province, 27 June
Many quake displaced are still living in temporary shelters

These people seem determined to make sure their money reaches those affected by the earthquake, which is thought to have left more than 80,000 dead.

In one case, an internet user urged people to "catch the ghosts" - those responsible for stealing tents destined for disaster-hit areas.

A few hours after that call in Sichuan's provincial capital Chengdu, hundreds of people besieged a tent owner who they thought was not an earthquake victim.

It seems this public concern has forced the government to get tough.

Officials recently said they had received nearly 1,200 complaints from the public about the misuse of earthquake funds.

So far 12 officials have been sacked, with 31 others punished, according to Ma Wen, head of the National Bureau of Corruption Prevention.

'Not serious'

She added that officials had so far done a good job in raising, allocating and distributing earthquake relief funds.

"The management and use of those funds and goods are open and transparent, with no serious problems discovered," she said.

Problems have occurred, but these are small, said Ms Ma. They include accounting irregularities and exaggerating relief needs.

This favourable view is backed up by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Spokesman Francis Markus said the organisation had so far not encountered any problems with the misuse of funds or goods.

It hopes to deliver 100,000 tents to disaster-hit areas - and wants to make sure none of these find their way into the wrong hands.

"We need to be accountable to our donors so we have a process in place to know where the tents are going," said Mr Markus.

Foreign donors have so far provided about 1.5 billion yuan ($218m; 111m) worth of cash and goods for the relief effort.

Profiting from horror

But corruption does exist, despite the central government's efforts.

Makeshift classrooms in quake-hit Guangyuan, Sichuan province, on 3 July
Rebuilding from the devastating quake is a huge task

According to the state media, an official from Henan province is accused of misappropriating funds he helped collect for earthquake victims.

He apparently misused more than 260,000 yuan of earthquake relief money, some of it spent at his sister's shop.

This donated money was supposedly used at the store to buy clothes, which were then passed off as items donated for earthquake victims.

There are also others thought to be willing to make a profit out of this disaster.

One foreign businessman told the BBC that his company would provide relief materials at cost price, but the method of selling the goods to the government led him to suspect officials were pocketing cash from the deal.

It is a reminder that, however vigilant the central government says it is, it will have to keep on its guard if all earthquake money is to be used properly.

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