Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Final Close of the Fiery Chapter

On February 9, 2009 we all watched in shock when the new building next to the CCTV tower was on fire. People gathered near it and on the bridge going over it, filming and photographing the raging inferno.

Later a video someone took from a nearby building showed that it was indeed the massive fireworks that started the fire on the roof. That building, which was completely gutted, was supposed to house the Mandarin Oriental hotel which was set to open within weeks.

Many people lost their jobs with the hotel because of the fire.

It was very clear from the beginning that some executives from CCTV had wanted to organize a fireworks party to mark the end of the Spring Festival, and some how managed to get Grade A fireworks that were used in the Beijing Olympics and hired some people to set them off.

However, who was to blame? Was it the person who pushed the button? Was it the person who organized the party? Was it the people who prevented police from stopping them from what they were doing because it was illegal to set off such powerful fireworks in a high-density area?

Surely it wouldn't be too difficult to figure out who was responsible and then prosecute them.

But it took until over a year later to finally punish who was responsible for a building that should be a complete write-off, but instead the government is trying to salvage it despite concerns for structural safety.

On Monday, the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court sentenced 20 people for between three to seven years.

Most of the blame fell on Xu Wei, CCTV's former construction chief who pleaded guilty to ordering the illegal fireworks display and got seven years in prison for it.

The 19 others were handed sentences ranging from three to six-and-a-half years for getting industrial-grade fireworks and setting them off without the property safety permits. These people included staff from CCTV and two construction companies responsible for fire prevention and security during the fireworks display.

The government was probably hoping the length of time it took to prosecute people would allow the whole fiasco to fade. But the ugly reminder of the burned-out structure is still here, which had cost 5 billion RMB ($731 million) to build.

How they are going to salvage the building is still a mystery, as even the architects from OMA said it should be torn down.

But the government will forge ahead in trying to renovate the building, perhaps later realize it's not safe and then finally tear it down. Many buildings in China are built and then torn down in order to boost GDP figures. Maybe that's what's happening here to keep unemployment figures down?

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