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Home >> Opinion
UPDATED: 21:47, May 08, 2004
Premier's involvement should not be necessary
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Just as he did in last year's campaign to help migrant labourers get their unpaid wages, Premier Wen Jiabao played an important role in the recent "killer milk powder" case by ordering a thorough investigation and severe punishment for those responsible.

Last fall the premier personally intervened to help Xiong Deming, a farmer in Southwest China's Chongqing, get her family's unpaid wages of 2,240 yuan (US$270) for work on a construction site. Wen then effectively pushed a nationwide move to help millions of migrant workers get their defaulted payments.

This time, under the premier's orders, a State Council investigation team was sent to Fuyang in Central China's Anhui Province. Comprising officials from the Food and Drug Administration, the State General Administration for Quality Supervision and Inspection and Quarantine, the State Administration of Industry and Commerce and the Ministry of Health, the team is charged with finding out how the fake powder cases hit the market and punishing those responsible.

And it's working. By Sunday, 22 people suspected of producing and selling low quality milk powder that led to the death of 13 infants were detained. The investigation team also announced that producers of 23 out of the 40-odd types of fake milk powder blamed for the death of the babies have been found so far.

At the same time, a campaign to check counterfeit milk powders has been carried out nationwide.

With the order from State authorities and resolution by the central government, tangible results can be expected in this campaign.

But behind the slim joy lies a worrying fact that local authorities only began to implement tough measures against the perpetrators after national media began to investigate and State leaders vowed to take actions.

Milk powder with low or no nutritional value sold in Fuyang resulted in 171 cases of infant malnourishment since May 2003.

Local media exposed the problem several times and local industrial and commercial department and health authorities were surely aware of them. Some measures were taken by the end of last year, but until early this month when reporters investigated in Fuyang, some banned milk powders were still on the shelves in local stores.

It has now been reported that Fuyang city confiscated 21,912 bags of inferior-quality milk powder and sealed 29,550 bags of milk powder by Friday.

Similar raids were also done in other regions around the country after the deaths in Fuyang hit the headlines.

But why were these problems not fully checked by local governments in the first place? Do we always need the premier's words and a special campaign to solve a problem?

Had local officials performed their due duty, the market could have been in better order. Had there been an effective correction mechanism to watch officials' malfeasance, the tragedy could have been prevented.

An order from the premier and a special campaign should not be expected as the ultimate remedy whenever there is a problem.

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