China Cracks Down on Ghost City Monoliths

An empty apartment building construction project in Ordos city, Inner Mongolia, China Photograph by Imaginechina via AP Photo

China is getting serious about reining in at least one aspect of its ghost cities—the monolithic work palaces built for civil servants. On March 19, the central government announced it has investigated 147 officials and punished 55 for violating a five-year ban, imposed last July, on construction of all new government buildings.

“The malpractice of constructing new government buildings should be exposed. Departments and individuals should never cover or shield the malpractice,” said the State Council in its statement. “Precious funds should be used for safeguarding and improving the people’s well-being,” the statement said, as reported by the official Xinhua News Agency.

The ban has at least two purposes. One is to compel local governments to spend state funds more wisely, as concerns about growing levels of debt are mounting. China’s National Development and Reform Commission last year announced that 144 cities in 12 provinces were planning to build more than 200 new towns.

A Feb. 20 analysis by Beijing economic consultancy Gavekal Dragonomics showed that by 2011, 45 percent of all investment in China was channeled into “stagnant or loser prefectures,”—defined as those with little or negative population growth.

“Empty towns and ghost cities are redundant constructions that do not generate much economic benefit. They are a huge waste of resources which pile debt pressure onto local governments,” editorialized the People’s Daily last year.

The ban is also part of President Xi Jinping’s effort to curb ostentatious behavior by government officials and crack down on graft. The aim is “to promote a national frugality campaign and curb official’s appropriation of public funds,” explained Xinhua.

In November, a 100,000-square-meter local government building in the county of Youxian, Hunan, drew ire from China’s Internet users. Pictures circulated online of the grandiose, 270 million yuan ($43 million) complex showed a 15-story main building, along with four smaller, 4-story buildings, that was built to house the county’s 58 government departments. The online reports also noted that 5 million yuan had been spent to furnish it, reported the China Daily.

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