China has punished nearly 250 “lazy” government officials for their failure to spend federal funds on public improvement projects and development initiatives in an unprecedented crackdown on corruption, reported Xinhua, the state news agency. The officials were described as lazy because many had deliberately delayed major projects to avoid drawing the scrutiny of anti-corruption authorities, Reuters reported Tuesday.

That annoyed authorities in Beijing, who scolded 249 officials in 24 provincial governments for procrastination and threatened to recall their untouched budgets. The officials have been fired, demoted or warned amid an investigation spanning from the end of May to the middle of June, Xinhua reported.

"The aim of holding these people accountable is to promote work and manage the issue of laziness in government and doing nothing ... and ensure this year's economic targets are on track," an unidentified official said in the Xinhua report. By the end of August, the government had seized unspent funds totaling 296 billion yuan ($46.5 billion). Most of the money had been earmarked for “urgent” development projects to improve people’s livelihoods.

For example, a food recycling project in the northern province of Shanxi had not begun construction as of May, even though Beijing had approved funds for it in 2012, Xinhua said Monday. The cabinet of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang last week announced 300 billion yuan had been seized by the government.

Li has criticized local officials for being too slack in pushing Beijing's policy directives and promised the seized money would soon be reinvested. China's economy has this year been on track for its weakest performance in at least a quarter of a century, Reuters reported.

This summer’s plunge in China's stock market and a devaluation in the yuan currency shocked global markets, putting global investors and policymakers on edge. The downtown also stirred doubts about Beijing's ability to manage the nation’s economy.