An FT report that some parents of children killed in a school collapse in the Sichuan earthquake are considering legal action against local officials they believe responsible for sub-standard construction highlights the growing point of protest in what has otherwise being a “good” disaster response for the authorities.
The school in question, a middle school in Juyuan, is not the only one in Sichuan to have been shaken to the ground. Nigh on 5,000 schoolchildren perished in the quake, creating a potentially powerful lobby of angry parents.
Investigations into shoddy construction standards are already underway across the province. The education ministry has promised “severe” punishment for any offenders found; the chief justice of the Supreme court has called for lower courts to crack down on any earthquake related corruption. No doubt guilty parties will be found, if more among local than central government officials.
State media has given unprecedented, if carefully managed, coverage to the disaster. The images have been of heroic effort and extensive mourning, but they can’t completely mask the fact that schools and houses have collapsed where party and government buildings still stand. Yet questions of responsibility are absent. Even on the internet, vociferous in its criticism of foreign governments over Tibet, only the faintest of concerns about construction standards are being voiced, or at least in the posting let stand.
The school building affair will prove an interesting test of how much openness is really being permitted, and, for Beijing, a measure of how much it dare safely allow.