Give Government Transparency a Day in the Sun

A Century Weekly editorial urges greater official transparency in China, noting a recently issued Party circular on the construction of “a clean, responsible and service-oriented government that respects the rule of law”.

Non-disclosure should be an exception, not the rule. But in practice, even though a regulation has been put in place, the opposite is true. This state of affairs must be reversed.

In a modern society that values people’s right to self-determination, the government should exercise power with openness. China’s government departments have a long way to go in this regard. Some behave like a tiger, others like a Mafia boss. Officials attitudes can range from arrogant to secretive to downright mean.

When authorities act in ways that fan public resentment, discontent can boil over in times of crises, damaging the government’s credibility and threatening social stability.

It’s inevitable that Chinese society, rife with contradictions, will have some problems with governance. But repeated bungling by government officials suggests an inability to keep pace with China’s economic growth and social development.

Change is coming fast mainly for two reasons. Civil rights awareness has grown since China opened its doors to the rest of the world more than 30 years ago, and a traditional subject-ruler mindset is giving way to civic awareness. Secondly, the Internet’s information revolution now spreads news widely, at high speed and low cost, shaping the course of public affairs.

The article goes on to note that, “incredibly”, some officials’ commitment to transparency does not extend as far as answering to the media. Such attitudes might be discouraged by the case of the director of a Fujian city’s environmental protection bureau, who has been suspended for refusing to answer a reporter’s questions. From China Daily:

A local TV reporter called Chen Guiguang in late July, trying to ask him about a settlement in a pollution case that had occurred in the city. The reporter’s request for an interview was rejected.

“You shouldn’t be calling my number,” Chen said to the reporter, according to video footage posted on a micro blog by the TV station on Aug 4.

“If everybody could call me whenever they wanted, wouldn’t that mean a bureau chief is worth nothing?

“My number shouldn’t be called by ordinary people. Why should my phone be reachable by people in the public like you?”