Govt center in the air weighs on rebuilding

2008-07-22 07:47:42 GMT       2008-07-22 15:47:42 (Beijing Time)       China Daily

CHENGDU: Faced with the gargantuan task of reconstruction after the devastating quake struck on May 12, Sichuan authorities are prepared to make any sacrifice to put the province's economy back on track.

"Chengdu this year will cut 10 percent of the operational cost of the departments under the Chengdu municipal committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Chengdu municipal government, the city's people's congress and political consultative conference," He Huazhang, chief of the provincial capital's publicity department, told media last Wednesday.

The 8.0-magnitude quake left 4,304 people dead, 33,506 wounded and more than 1 million homeless in Chengdu alone.

Economic losses were put at more than 120 billion yuan ($18 billion) for the city, 92 km from the quake epicenter.

One major challenge is the resettlement of the homeless, which is said to be on the scale of that seen for the Three Gorges Dam project, the city's publicity chief said.

In that instance, the resettlement had taken a decade.

Fiscally, Chengdu needs at least 150 billion yuan for total reconstruction efforts, He said.

The city is short of that mark by tens of billions of yuan.

Drastic measures are now being taken to cut down on expenses and build up funds for reconstruction, including canceling official trips for overseas exchanges and banning departments from buying new cars for official use.

Above all, the city announced last Wednesday that it will sell its new administrative center to raise funds for reconstruction.

The center costs 1.2 billion yuan, covers 17 hectares and is located in the city's southern suburbs, near the Shuangliu airport.

It was completed at the end of last year, after three years' construction.

The complex has a main building shaped like Beijing's egg-shaped National Grand Theater and its peripheral structures borrow designs from the Olympic National Stadium, better known as the Bird's Nest.

More than 5,000 people can be accommodated in them.

The idea of clustering all the administrative departments into one complex was aimed at improving work efficiency.

Before the quake struck, most of the departments under the CPC Chengdu municipal committee and government had already moved to the new center.

Only the offices of the city's top leaders, including the party secretary, mayor, people's congress and political consultative conference, had yet to move in.

But the quake paved the way for the city's decision to sell the administrative complex.

While the move won the support of residents and administrative employees, controversy soon built up around the actual sale of the complex.

Jie Liang, an official with the city's sports bureau, told China Daily that she would feel more at ease in her old office located in the Chengdu Sports Stadium downtown, considering how quake victims continued to suffer in Sichuan.

Her office had moved to the center less than a week before the temblor struck.

Following the disaster, Jie had gone to several quake zones to help in relief work and came face to face with the suffering of victims.

In Dujiangyan, where 900 students were killed in a school building collapse, Jie found a distraught middle-aged mother facing the body of her daughter.

"And when I went to quake-hit Mianzhu about 10 days ago, I did not expect to see about half of the city's population of 500,000 still living in tents. It felt wrong to be staying in a grand edifice like the center while millions of people are homeless," she said.

Also, the new complex is too far from the city center, Jie said.

"Many have complained about its inaccessibility," she said.

"The former offices of all the departments are near Tianfu Square, the city center."

Similarly, many Chengdu residents doubt if the complex, strictly designed for office use, can be sold.

The land on which it is built costs more than 1.3 billion yuan alone.

The buildings cost more than 2.5 billion yuan, after the price of its land and requisite investment is taken into account.

"That is to say, one square meter of building space in the center, which has 370,000 sq m of building space, costs about 6,700 yuan, about the same price of commercial homes located around the center," said Chen Qun, deputy headmistress of a Chengdu primary school.

There are also many big trees in the complex that are said to pose as obstacles to its sale.

A gingko tree in the area, for instance, can be worth more than 10,000 yuan.

It is difficult to find a company that will find the center suitable, much less one that can afford to buy such a large center with so many valuable trees, Chen said.

And like many real estate developers building houses near the center, many employees of the CPC Chengdu municipal committee and the municipal government fear that the houses they have bought near the center will depreciate due to its sale.

The price of houses near the complex has more than tripled from four years ago.

Many expected the price to rise further with all the departments moving to the site.

"But with the city's political center moving from the southern suburbs back to the city center 15 km away, price hikes of property in the southern suburbs will surely be curbed," said Fu Wenrong, an official with the city's information office.

Wang Lilin, an official with Fu's office, told China Daily that their move back to the city is also expected to start next month, after the walls of their old office in the compound of the CPC Chengdu municipal committee are given a facelift.

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