The Three Gorges Botanical Garden of Rare Plants was closed last month for financial reasons.
Thousands of rare plants in the reserve which had been transplanted from their original habitat before it was submerged by the reservoir are now facing the danger of perishing because of bureaucratic indifference.
When the Three Gorges hydroelectric project was officially launched 15 years ago, the government promised that the adverse impact on the environment would be minimized. But it seems the relevant authorities have done a poor job in preserving rare plants and maintaining biodiversity in the reservoir area.
It is unfair to accuse the government of inaction. The central authorities did make some moves. The Three Gorges Office under the State Council allocated funds to finance scientific research for "rescuing rare species" and the State Forestry Bureau appropriated 3.13 million yuan ($391,250) to the Three Gorges Botanical Garden of Rare Plants. And Premier Wen Jiabao gave special instructions on how the work should be carried out.
However, there seems to have been no serious implementation of the instructions on the part of local authorities. In its five years of existence, the botanical garden has been maintained by one individual not connected with the government and the 20-plus workers he personally employed.
Xiang Xiufa, a former fish pond farmer, gave up his own business to launch the botanical garden in 2002. Supported by China's top botanists, the garden received funds from the State Forestry Bureau for its first stage of development. The money was soon used up in constructing the garden's infrastructure. Xiang sold his fishing business with its 300,000 yuan ($37,500) annual income and part of his residence to pay for transplanting wild plants and paying the workers' wages.
He and his team raced against time to rescue the wild plants from the rising water and by mid-2004 had succeeded in preserving nearly 10,000 rare plants of 175 species in the botanical garden. However, lack of money prevented him from employing qualified technicians for better management of the garden.
After Premier Wen Jiabao issued instructions on the matter in April 2005, the Chongqing municipal government made three decisions: build a highway leading to the garden; draft an overall plan for financial support to be submitted to the central government; and include the garden in the local government budget.
Not one of the decisions has been implemented. The reasons? There were a number of them: bureaucratic inaction; buck passing between government departments; and unwillingness to dig into the local treasury for a non-lucrative business; but most of all, the officials' indifference toward the protection of the rare plants.
Maybe the central government should allocate more money to help with the job. But the local government failed to draft, as it has promised, the required plan and application though two years have passed. And local officials did not do much to help Xiang despite his repeated appeals citing the premier's instructions.
A journalist who has followed Xiang's efforts for many years remarked: "He is too naive, thinking that he has won powerful support from the central and municipal leaders. He doesn't understand the rules - a distant supreme leader is not as substantially powerful as an immediate superior."
This mirrors one of the vital problems in China's administrative culture: Strong central policies end up with weak or non-existent implementation by local officials.
(China Daily 06/06/2007 page10)