More Reactions to the ‘Sunshine Act’

Earlier, CDT posted an excerpt of a September 24th Southern Weekend editorial on a recent communiqué from Central Commission for Discipline Inspection that announced officials are “required to report all records pertaining to housing and investments as well as child and spouse employment. Those officials whose families have moved abroad will have increased supervision.” This ‘Sunshine Act’ (阳光法案) is part of a larger drive for freedom of information, which, if ideally implemented, would allow citizens to request government information disclosure at little to no cost.

According to the Southern Weekend article, there are three methods to implement the Sunshine Act: (1) a method favored by officials, (2) a method favored by the public, and (3) compromised position between the two groups. Andy Yee translates a selection of user feedback to this and more at Global Voices:

wunanwunan 28-9-2009: I am willing to compromise and hope future officials will be clean. Our country and party don’t need to collapse. The issue is to find out when and on what basis the public is willing to compromise. If not, the CCP will use the excuse that the public is not willing to compromise and postpone the sunshine policy indefinitely.

Reader yippee 25-9-2009: This is a test on the CCP’s political wisdom. I support the iron hand policy because people support it. CCP always claims that its mission is to serve the people. Now that people are making the demand, how can the public servant say no? How can they dare to use the slogan “serving the people” if they say no?

tiger7428 25-9-2009: I can assert that without democracy, the so-called asset declaration policy would look like a decorative vase even if implemented. The key processes of declaration, publicizing, supervision and accountability are at the hand of government officials. It’s like hitting one’s right hand with his left hand. It is impossible to cure corruption with such kind of procedural policy. Without public monitor and without being accountable to the people, the iron hand policy is just a return to the ancient China way of depending on the appearance of “good and righteous officials”. Our history has proved that it won’t work.

At Caijing, reporter Hu Shuli takes a look at previous initiatives and regulations that promoted government transparency, and notes some of their effectiveness and public support. The article, however, closes on a sober note and underscores the need for institutional changes:

Reforms can come gradually, but the process must be ongoing. Admittedly, China’s existing assets disclosure rules lag far behind prevailing sunshine laws found in other parts of the world. And they should be improved. Among other deficiencies, their scope is too narrow and their reach not comprehensive enough. What’s more, disclosure category and time limits run slack. Disclosures should be publicized and regulations made state law, while lessons gleaned from past experience should serve to strengthen implementation.

What should be underscored is that any sunshine law can only function as part of a much broader system for preventing corruption. Under the existing system, China does not lack regulations on paper, nor is there any shortage of specific, concrete measures. What’s lacking is a systematic, organically coordinated and functioning institution.

To learn more about freedom of information (also referred to as access to information [ATI] and open government information [OGI]), see the China Elections and Governance’s site on Open Government Information in China.