Political advisers tougher on local govt

Updated: 2013-02-02 19:04


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GUANGZHOU -- Although many see long beards as emblems of wisdom and old age, a south China political adviser is using his beard as a weapon to prod the government to unveil a controversial document.

Meng Hao, a 55-year-old man in south China's Guangdong province who has acquired the nickname "Cannon Meng" for his outspoken ways, announced a year ago that he would grow his beard out as a way of protesting the local government's failure to publicize a policy document concerning reforms for some state-owned enterprises (SOEs) that are engaged in investment and financing.

The document has been kept in the closet by the government of Guangzhou, the provincial capital of Guangdong, since it was issued in 2008, raising suspicions that the government may authorize projects for certain SOEs that harm public interests.

"I won't shave my beard until the Guangzhou government makes the mysterious 'Document No. 39' known to the public," said Meng, a member of the Guangdong provincial committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

Meng's beard drew a great deal of attention at the recently concluded sessions of Guangdong's legislative and political advisery bodies.

At a press conference held on January 23, Guangzhou mayor Chen Jianhua responded to Meng's request, promising that the government will release the document by the end of March.

Chen said the document will only be revealed after the completion of reforms for six related enterprises.

"This is a commitment to Meng Hao," the mayor said at the press conference.

He added that he felt sorry for the inconvenience Meng has had to deal with in keeping his long beard, even attempting to convince Meng to shave the 15-cm-long facial hair.

Meng, however, refused to give in, insisting that he would only shave it off after the document is released.

Meng's veracity is not uncommon among Guangdong's political advisers, who have become known for their boldness and persistence. Their dramatic actions and words have made them a weather vane for Guangdong's democratic politics.

Fan Songqing, deputy secretary-general of the Guangzhou municipal committee of the CPPCC, recently said he would like to declare his assets and make them known to the public.

Fan's remarks sparked heated discussions regarding the government's long-awaited asset disclosure plan, particularly after the exposure of a slew of corrupt officials in recent months.

The discussions also convinced several mayors in Guangdong, including Chen, to express willingness to disclose their assets, albeit on the condition that they must receive notice to do so first.

"Political advisers should exert rights that are endorsed by the people," said Wang Zechu, a former political adviser in Guangdong.

"You have the right to question and inquire, and if you are not content with the answer, you have the right not to let things go," Wang added.

When he was a member of the Standing Committee of the ninth Guangdong provincial committee of the CPPCC, Wang asked the Guangzhou government multiple times to disclose audit results regarding investment, fee collection and expenses for a local bridge, which led to the end of fees for vehicles traveling over the bridge.

Zhu Zhengfu, a CPPCC National Committee member, said the active and deep involvement of Guangdong's political advisers reflects their enthusiasm to participate in politics, as well as their sharp thinking and their desire to express themselves freely.

Located to the north of Hong Kong and Macao, Guangdong is one of the most liberal provinces in China. Two of the country's most outspoken media outlets - the Southern Weekly and Southern Metropolis Daily - are based in Guangzhou.

"A relatively open and tolerant political and cultural environment, as well as positive interaction between officials and the public, are the soil that allow outspoken, brave and responsible political advisers to grow," said Yan Changwu, a public administration associate professor at Jinan University in Guangzhou.

"Meng Hao's action shows that the citizens of Guangzhou are keen to supervise the government out of love and support for the city," mayor Chen said.

However, Yan said that an excessive reliance on such outspoken advisers during the political sessions indicates that the ways in which the public can express itself and communicate with the government remain imperfect.

"We cannot pin all our hopes on a few outspoken and bold political advisers," Yan said.

"In the long run, we need to improve channels for people to freely express themselves and normalize a systematic platform for people's voices to be heard," he added.