Ousted rail minister not to impact high-speed expansion

09:37, February 14, 2011      

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Beijing has decided to remove Liu Zhijun, minister of railways, from his post for reportedly serious corruption charges, but the move won’t slow down China’s vehement construction of pace-setting high-speed trains.

Liu Zhijun, 58, has been removed from his post and placed under investigation for a "severe violation of discipline," the official Xinhua News Agency reported Saturday. Some domestic media reports allege Liu has taken bribes amounting to millions of yuan, which, if proved to be true, is likely to land him a long term imprisonment.

The central government has appointed Sheng Guangzu, 62, commissioner of the General Administration of Customs (GAC), to replace Liu. The speedy appointment of Sheng, analysts believe, is not send too much of shockwaves through the all-important rail sectors. China is leading the world in improving its infrastructure projects including the mass-transit high-speed rail systems.

Liu is the most senior ranking Chinese official to come under investigation since Chen Liangyu, the former party secretary of Shanghai, was dismissed from his post in 2006 and sentenced in 2008 to 18 years in prison for corruption and diverting Shanghai’s pension funds to private uses.

China's railway service handles the world's largest annual transportation of passengers, which occurs during the lunar new year when people across the country travel home to reunite with families.

Corruption is believed to run rampant in the system, especially during the peak period, as scalpers who are usually well-connected with employees in the railway system sell train tickets at inflated prices.

The Xinhua report gave no details about the reason for the investigation, but caing.com, a Beijing-based news portal, quoted anonymous sources as saying Liu's fall was directly linked to an earlier government investigation into a high-speed railway supplier, the Global Times reported on Monday.

Ding Shumiao, a businesswoman from Shanxi Province who made a fortune by supplying high-speed railway equipment, was taken away by investigators early last month, the report said.

Wang Yukai, an anti-corruption expert at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said Liu's dismissal could possibly speed up a fundamental reform of the railway system.

"It's high time to split the Ministry of Railways and separate its government functions from its enterprise management, and let them fall under the Ministry of Transport," The Global Times quoted Wang as saying. He added that corruption can easily occur if the ministry is both the “resource owner and manager”.

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