Transparency in government remains one of the major obstacles in China’s social and political reform. The Communist Party has publicly acknowledged the need for more transparency; only in the last 3-5 years has government offices at every level around the country begun to add press departments, issue press releases, and hold regularly press conferences. But this is only one step in government transparency.
The next little step might be the “Government Release of Information” regulation (中华人民共和国政府信息公开条例) issued by the State Council in January of 2007. This regulation went into effect on May 1st of this year, 2008. The regulation requires administrative government offices go through a formal process in terms of processing, analyzing, and finally releasing various types of information (including budgets, planning decisions, details on government expenditures, etc) to the public.
This article from the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly gives us some idea of how this regulation might change the way Chinese government offices does business.
The Southern Weekly is a controversial but very popular crusading newspaper, beloved of China’s right-leaning intellectuals who believes the media plays a critical role in monitoring government.
Exactly how effective the regulation will be depends on the details, as it still permits for government information to be held as a state secret as necessary for “national security, economic security, and social stability.” But even in such cases, government offices will have to explain its decision to anyone who requests this information.
New Law Publicly Releasing Information Implemented; Tests Government Willingness To Reveal Truth
A citizen “testing” the law: for dogs, for man, and for rights.
Within two days, Shanghai-based lawyer Yan Yiming quickly went through Hefei (Anhui province), Fuyang (Anhui province), and Zhengzhou (Henan province), submitting a formal application for release of information to the Anhui provincial health agency, the Fuyang city government, as well as the Henan environmental protection agency. In the case of Anhui, he requested that the provincial health agency release information explaining why it did not promptly release information regarding hand-foot-mouth disease infections.
The basis for Yan Yiming’s requests comes from the regulation just implemented nation-wide on May 1st. Considering the recent railroad accident, as well as the epidemic in Fuyang, the timing for the implementation of this regulation seems perfect.
This is also a day that Chen Yuhua has been waiting a long time for. Early in the morning, he rushed from his home in the Changping suburbs to the Beijing city public security agency, requesting the public release of information regarding how dog-management fees collected by the city is used. Lala is the name of his beloved dog, and on behalf of Lala, he pays 200 RMB to the government every year. Based on Chen Yuhua’s calculation, Beijing has 700,000 registered dogs, if calculated on the basis of 300 RMB per dog in management fees, that comes to a total of more than 200 million RMB.
After being notified the public security agency “wasn’t ready yet”, Chen Yuhua went outside for a smoke. After an hour, two police officers led him to a conference room. After “engaging in a friendly, candid exchange”, Chen finally felt like his anger had dissipated.
The public security agency’s public information request office was set up in the petition lobby, but there isn’t a dedicated service desk or clear instructions. Old Chen is very familiar with this place. Since 2003, he has written letters and petitions regarding the dog management fees non-stop. His case has been kicked from department to department. To date, the least unclear answer he has received so far is: “most of the funds goes towards free rabies inoculations, other funds go towards publicizing dog-related laws, as well as daily management work.”
“In terms of annual ‘services’, its only a rabies shot, which I’ve heard is only 25 RMB; can they really call that ‘most’ of the funds?” He requested public release of how all previous year’s management fees were used.
After hearing “previous years”, the two policeman discussed briefly, and then quickly issued for him a “Registration Receipt”, with registration code “City Public Security Agency – 2008 – #1”.
Told that he was the first person to request release of information from this agency, old Chen felt very fortunate and proud. This is only old Chen’s first step; his ultimate goal is changing the existing “unreasonable rules” towards raising dogs in Beijing. “Although this is just an issue involving a dog, behind this lies principles of social equality, as well as personal dignity”, so says Chen Yuhua.
Some governments have already tasted the flavor of being sued. On May 7th, 5 residents from Youchan, Hunan province filed suit against the Youchan prefectural government for refusing to released investigation material.
… part 1 ends here. Page 2/3 are also interesting, and I may translate upon further request.