This post has been translated into Chinese for our Chinese site. 请点此看中文译文。
Just like in Sichuan two years ago, students in Yushu died, crushed by the classrooms and hallways of their schools. Whether the school collapses were the result of shoddy construction or not is still not clear, but that people suspect corruption led to poorly-built schools is not unfair. Thousands of students died in Sichuan because the pockets of local officials were greased, and school buildings and building materials weren’t properly inspected.
This, of course, is illegal. But how can the central government stop it? Especially in regions like Yushu, which is both remote and impoverished, anti-corruption laws are difficult to enforce. And after the Sichuan quake controversy, local officials everywhere are likely to be worried and defensive, afraid they, too, will be accused of endangering children.
The truth everyone knows is that there are thousands, probably millions, of schools and other buildings out there that aren’t up to code or weren’t inspected properly in the first place. The government can’t magically fix them all, but there is something it could try that would both create jobs and ensure that at least some schools are more safely built in the future.
What I would propose is a two-step process. The first step is a general amnesty for all local officials, inspectors, and building companies. They, of course, know where they cut corners. The government should announce nationwide inspections (something for all those unemployed college graduates to do) will occur, and violators will be harshly punished, but that officials or builders who know they cut corners will be exempt so long as they fix the problem themselves in a way that is adequate to the new inspectors’ liking.
The second step would be nationwide inspections of schools. Of course, some of these inspectors will be bribed, and some of them will probably take the bribes, but with a bit of ideological work beforehand, I’m certain the government will end up with at least a handful of straight inspectors. Schools found to be improperly built should be fixed, and the local builders and/or officials punished accordingly.
The eternal question, of course, is where does the money come from for all of this. Certainly, the government isn’t rolling in riches, but I think they could take money off of some of their more useless projects (CCTV International, anyone?) and funnel it into school inspection and rebuilding to better effect. Frankly, for all their talk of soft power, a genuine push to modernize school buildings and cut down on corruption that hurts children would probably gain them as much, if not more, international goodwill than an infinite number of CCTV channels.
What do you think, though? I am exhausted and have been applying for jobs all day, so I’m ready to admit that there may be a gaping hole in this proposal somewhere, or many gaping holes. So how can the government affect real change in eliminating the “tofu-dreg buildings” that many students must attend classes in?