Chinese Ministries More Transparent, Study Says

8 October 2012

Chinese ministries are increasingly transparent, according to a new report by the Center for Public Participation Studies and Supports at Peking University.

The 42 central government departments studied scored an average 60.4 points out of 100, up from 51.2 points in 2010 and 46.1 points in 2009. Only four departments saw their scores drop.

“The improvement is inseparable with the central government’s drive in past years to promote transparency,” said Wang Xixin, director of the center and a law professor at the university told the China Daily.

The study is weighted toward examining proactive disclosure and progress toward building pro-transparency institutions, according to those familiar with it. No English version of the 2012 study is available. The published summary of the 2009 report (English) (Chinese) does not list all the factors, but provides a general description. An unpublished translation of the 2011 version includes a chart on the specific items evaluated (reproduced below).

There are five general categories: institution building, system building, disclosure on own initiative, disclosure on request, and “supervision and remedy.” Of these the greatest weight, about 40 percent is placed on proactive disclosure, with disclosure on request and supervision and remedy categories each worth about one-quarter of the total score. The 100 point system for the federal State Council agencies has five primary, 15 secondary, and 37 tertiary indicators.

The highest score was by the Ministry of Transport (77.5 points), followed by the Ministry of Environmental Protection (75.5 points). At the bottom of the list are the State Tobacco Monopoly Bureau (49.5 points), the Ministry of Railways (47 points), and the Ministry of Supervision (23 points).

The Peking University center collaborated with the China Law Center of the Yale Law School and eight other universities across China to do the study, the third in a series. The study also covers 30 provincial-level governments and many county-level governments.

The work was done from November 2011 to August 2012 and 1,694 requests were sent to government agencies, but the assessments are based largely on examining the annual reports required of all levels of government and their functional departments. The request system remains extremely restricted under the 2008 Open Government Information Regulation (OGIR), according to Jamie Horsley, Senior Research Scholar & Lecturer in Law, at Yale Law School, and the Executive Director of the China Law Center at Yale.

She said:  “Given how new the concept is in China, and the emphasis in the OGIR themselves on system-building (establishing OGI work offices, compiling information catalogues and citizen guides, publishing annual reports in which various statistics are reported (but not yet subject to uniform requirements)), the group decided to start out with more of a quantitative or objective methodology and try to inject greater subjective and qualitative aspects in later years.”

Praising the study, Horsley also commented, “These assessment reports have really had a terrific impact thus far on ensuring that implementation of the OGIR remain before China’s leaders at various levels, as well as the public.  Rather than being a dead letter, these Regulations have taken on increasing vitality, promoting major changes in, for example, government budget and financial transparency and transparency of the charitable/non-profit sector.”

Mitchell Pearlman, a lecturer in journalism at the University of Connecticut, where he has taught comparative FOI law, was quoted by the China Daily as saying that the report reveals “very positive picture of the situation in China compared with other countries” and that “the level of compliance is substantially higher than similar surveys I’ve seen in the United States.”

Pearlman Elaborates

Pearlman, who was the executive director and general counsel of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, told FreedomInfo.org that he had prefaced his remarks by saying that China’s relatively new Open Government Information provisions “have a long way to go before meeting what I would call international norms or best practices.” His email to FreedomInfo.org said further:  “So to compare the survey to the many others I’ve read over the years would be like comparing apples with oranges. As a defined term, “OGI” in China is extremely narrow in comparison to similar laws in other jurisdictions. While all such laws have exceptions and exemptions, China excludes information that might interfere with the three securities and one stability (state security, public security and economic security plus social stability). It’s also circumscribed by broad state secrets and commercial secrets laws and a broad, but undefined, notion of personal privacy. All of these exclusions from OGI apply to government enterprises and partnerships as well as government organs.”

Pearlman complimented the study, saying it “showed a greater level of implementation than surveys that I’ve read, or in which I participated, here in the U.S. and some other countries.” He continued:

“The survey also shows improved compliance over the three years that surveys were conducted. These, I believe, are positive developments. In addition, China’s OGI regulations emphasize the proactive disclosure of OGI rather than responding to individual requests. So it was gratifying to note that the survey took into account the quality of proactively disclosed OGI both in print and on-line.”

Pearlman emphasized that China’s laws “were both new and a sea change from the overarching secrecy China had in the past. So time was necessary to see them hopefully evolve, as similar laws elsewhere have, over time.” China still lacks an effective enforcement regime for OGI, Pearlman said. “In the absence of an effective enforcement regime, surveys, such as the ones undertaken by the Center for Public Participation Studies and Supports, have a major impact by publicizing shortcomings and embarrassing recalcitrant government officials.”

Categories for Federal Agencies

The following shart is taken from a translation of the 2011 report and details the standards used to judge the federal agencies.

Primary Indicators Secondary Indicators Tertiary Indicators Weight  Method
A. Institution Building Agency in Charge A01 Is the leader of the open government information deliberating and coordinating body of a higher rank than those of corresponding bodies? 1 Data Retrieval
Functional Organ A02 Has the Agency set up a special functional organ responsible for its open government information work? 1 Data Retrieval
B. System Building Norms Integration B01 Has the government developed integrated norms on open government information work? 4 Data Retrieval
Specific Systems B02 Has the Agency established with specific norms the confidentiality examination system on open government information? 2 Data Retrieval
B03 Has the Agency developed other long-term mechanisms that promote its open government information work? 3 Data Retrieval
Disclosure on Governments’ Own Initiative Extensive-ness C01 Is the information on administrative fees disclosed on agency’s own initiative? 5 Data Retrieval
C02 Are reports on budges and final financial accounts disclosed on the agency’s own initiative? 5 Data Retrieval
C03 Is the information on centralized government procurement disclosed on the agency’s own initiative? 5 Data Retrieval
Timeliness C04 Has the time limit for open government information been set in accordance with the law? 1 Data Retrieval
Accuracy C05 Has the agency established with specific norms a coordinating mechanism for information release? 3 Data Retrieval
User-friendliness C06 Has the agency set up open government information reading facilities and actually provided open government information service in accordance with the law? 2 Data Retrieval
C07  Has the government gazette been published continuously? 1 Data Retrieval
C08 Has the government gazette been categorized appropriately? 1 Data Retrieval
C09 Is the search function of the government’s website complete and effective? 4 Actual Measurement
C10 Is the design of the government webpages user-friendly? 2 Actual Measurement
C11 Is the press release by the government institutionalized? 2 Actual Measurement
C12 Are the functional organs recorded in the “Open Government Information Guide” complete and adequate? 3 Data Retrieval
C13 Are the open government information situation recorded in the “Open Government Information Guide” well-arranged and systemic? 2 Data Retrieval
C14 Dose the “Catalogue of Open Government Information” include all the contents stipulated by the law? 3 Data Retrieval
D. Disclosure on Request Conditions for Making Request D01 Are channels for disclosing government information on request convenient for people to use? 5 Actual Measurement
Responses D02 Is the collecting of requestors’ personal information more than necessary? 3 Actual Measurement
D03 Does the agency respond to requests for government information on time? 5 Actual Measurement
D04 Are the reasons for refusing to provide requested information legitimate? 2 Actual Measurement
D05  Have  the reason for refusing to provide requested information been adequately explained? 3 Actual Measurement
D06 Is the ratio of the agency’s refusal to provide the requested information too high? 3 Actual Measurement
E. Supervision and Remedy Performance Evaluation System E01 Has the agency established detailed norms for performance evaluation systems? 3 Data Retrieval
E02 Has the agency developed detailed assessment forms for open government information work? 2 Data Retrieval
E03 Is the portion of self-assessment by the agency in evaluating its open government information work lower than 70%? 1 Data Retrieval
E04 Is the result of the evaluation on open government information work open to the public? 2 Data Retrieval
E05 Is the evaluation on open government information work linked to the accountability system? 1 Data Retrieval
Social Appraisal System E06 Has the agency established a detailed social appraisal system? 2 Data Retrieval
E07 Has the government been evaluated by the public on its open government information work? 2 Data Retrieval
E08 Is the result of social appraisal on open government information work open to the public? 2 Data Retrieval
Performance Evaluation System E09 Has the government established with specific norms an accountability system? 3 Data Retrieval
Annual Report System E10 Is the timing of the agency’s issuance of its annual report on open government information in accordance with the law? 2 Data Retrieval
E11 Does the annual report on open government information issued by the agency include certain information required by the Regulations? 3 Data Retrieval
Remedy System for Individual Cases E12 Has the agency provided guidance to whistle blowing, administrative reviewing or law suits? 4 Data Retrieval
E14 Has the agency incorporated remedy for individual cases into performance evaluation or accountability system? 1 Data Retrieval
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