Accountability for information
Updated: 2014-10-21 08:05
If government transparency is a yardstick for gauging the quality of governance, very few local governments, or even many central government departments, measure up to even the lowest standard required when it comes to the disclosure of information to the public.
A report on government transparency released by the Chinese Academy of Sciences shows that only 10 percent of the 55 central government departments meet the lowest requirement; and of the 31 governments in provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, only seven do.
In a typical case, a staff member of a non-governmental organization filed 320 applications for information from 31 governments at the provincial level. She merely wanted to know the number of prostitutes, whoremongers and drug addicts who had been placed in mandatory correction. But she either got no response at all or was told that such information could not be disclosed to the public.
After the violent conflict last week between local villagers and developers in Jinning county, Yunnan province, villagers told reporters that they had never been shown any formal documents about the requisition of their land for construction purposes. That lack of information helped trigger hostilities that ended with eight people dead and 18 others injured.
The county government turned down reporters' requests to see the documents.
Information of the type mentioned in these cases is definitely not confidential. So why are governments unwilling to share such material with the public?
Information about crime and punishment helps people to understand problems in society and to monitor the government's response to those problems. Villagers whose homes are about to be taken have more than enough reason to be shown a land requisition certificate and other related documents.
Under regulations adopted by the State Council, if there is no valid reason for a government entity to withhold information, it should be given to anyone who applies for it.
Only by letting people know what it's doing can a government reasonably be subject to the supervision of the public. Public oversight is nothing but empty talk without transparency.
Of course, anyone who cannot get information can sue to get it, and in fact the NGO member seeking the prostitution and drug data has filed an administrative lawsuit.
Governments should not arbitrarily block information. They need to develop an awareness of the importance of disclosure and should provide applicants with the information they request unless it is prohibited by law.
This is fundamental to the rule of law, which is the central theme of the ongoing Fourth Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.