Several officials in various parts of China have recently been held to account for ineffectiveness in handling the Wuhan coronavirus.
The officials in question — mostly grassroots-level officials and officials attached to villages, along with a handful of provincial department level cadres — come from provinces including Hubei, Tianjin, Hunan, Henan, Zhejiang, and Anhui.
According to a CCTV report, an inspection team from the central government went to Huanggang city, which has the second-highest number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus after Wuhan. However, the head of the local health commission Tang Zhihong could not answer questions on issues such as the hospital’s ability to treat affected patients or the number of beds, and did not even give a straight answer whether she was the head or deputy head of the commission.
A news clip showed Tang checking information and making phone calls while the inspection team was asking questions. When interviewed later by a reporter, she said she only knew the number of beds, and complained that “you insist on asking about the number of patients”.
The news clip started going viral yesterday afternoon and drew widespread criticism, with one netizen commenting angrily: “After watching this clip, everyone understands why the situation in Huanggang is so bad.” Just a few hours later, Tang’s removal was announced on the Huanggang authorities’ official WeChat channel.
...some people have called for the authorities to not just go after the “small fry” at the grassroots level, but to hold senior officials accountable for major lapses, especially officials of Wuhan city and Hubei province.
Two days ago, Wang Zengtian, an official with the Tianjin health commission, was dismissed for “serious dereliction of duty and irresponsibility, which has had a severe negative impact”. He was also put on two years probation as a party member.
Several grassroots cadres have also been held to account. Two days ago, the Ezhou municipal government in Hubei province announced that a deputy secretary attached to Yingshan village was reported by the public for playing mahjong with villagers on the first two days of Chinese New Year, and was punished by the public security bureau. It also criticised the official for not putting up flyers on the epidemic in the village, and noted that many members of the public who were in the vicinity of the village committee did not take measures against the Wuhan coronavirus, leading to the decision to remove this official.
Some officials have been punished for issues with information disclosure. In Shan’ao village in Wenling city, Zhejiang province, a party secretary was dismissed for intentionally concealing the fact that his son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren had just returned to their hometown from Wuhan.
“To play mahjong at this crucial time instead of giving instructions at the front line, of course you’ll be dismissed.”--- Prof Tang Renwu
On Weibo and other social media, many netizens have shown support for tighter monitoring from the authorities, but some people have called for the authorities to not just go after the “small fry” at the grassroots level, but to hold senior officials accountable for major lapses, especially officials of Wuhan city and Hubei province.
Tang Renwu, head of the School of Government at Beijing Normal University, said the current tightening of accountability for grassroots cadres is crucial, because grassroots management in many local areas is still weak, and if the epidemic spreads on a large scale to village towns, it will be difficult for the local medical facilities to cope.
He thinks that some cadres may have been dismissed due to momentary carelessness, and some people may feel that the punishments are too harsh. However, given the current situation, such tough penalties are understandable. “To play mahjong at this crucial time instead of giving instructions at the front line, of course you’ll be dismissed.”
Senior officials in Wuhan and Hubei will be held to account once the epidemic stabilises
As for calls to hold senior officials in Wuhan and Hubei to account, Prof Tang says that doing so at this crucial period might affect the work against the epidemic or cause a gap in leadership. However, he thinks that once the epidemic stabilises, these senior leaders will be taken to task and will have to take responsibility for the epidemic.
...it will take serious action against officials who try to put up a show just to satisfy bureaucratic needs.
Prof Tang thinks that some officials may not have a scientific background and might not fully understand the danger of the Wuhan coronavirus. He says this is one serious problem with officials’ behaviour in the face of the epidemic. But in the long term, given the impact of the epidemic on China’s economy, how to support the economy and help industries and people recover after the epidemic stabilises, will also be a test of officials’ policies and leadership ability.
On 28 January, the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee released a notification on strengthening party leadership and providing strong political guarantees for winning the fight against the epidemic. It clearly wants to take to strict account party members and cadres who dare not take responsibility, who are inept, who only pretend to work, and who are derelict in their duties. Yesterday, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection also released a warning that it will take serious action against officials who try to put up a show just to satisfy bureaucratic needs. It points to behaviours such as ineptitude, shirking, and negative handling of situations.