Fewer Information Requests Made in China, Report Says

14 December 2012

The number of citizen requests for information in China has dropped because of impediments facing requesters, according to a new Peking University report.

The government is releasing more information, according to the report, but key information about the budget, spending and collection of administrative fees is still missing. The report is described in a Dec. 13 article by Ren Zhongyuan in Caixin Online.

The number of applications for information fell between 2009 and 2011, according to the report, because of difficulties facing applicants.

Caixin reported: “The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party’s anti-graft watchdog, said that a total of 1.3 million applications, or more than 85 percent of the total, resulted in disclosure in 2011. But the report found that at the city and county level a large number of applications went unanswered.”

The report issued Dec. 12 identifies four major roadblocks to a more transparent government:

–   problematic rules on information disclosure,

–   bad implementation,

–   poor quality of disclosed information and

–  lack of consensus among officials on the importance of disclosure.

Carter Urges More Openness

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was in Beijing to meet with Chinese officials about transparency, according to the article and website associated with his Carter Center. He met with Vice Premier Li Keqiang.

In a blog post about his trip says Carter urged China to upgrade its 2008 administrative regulation on government transparency and close loopholes in it. “China needs an open government,” Carter is quoted as saying. “Anti-corruption work still has a long way to go.”

“Ma Huaide, a law professor at China University of Political Science and Law, said if the regulation becomes a law, it will be more powerful,” according to the posting on Access to Information in China and Abroad.

It continues:

Currently, the administrative rule has a lower legal position than laws and must sometimes be set aside in matters that overlap with government transparency laws, including Civil Servant Law and Archive Law.

Ma said there are no specific details on what kind of information should be disclosed by the government under the current regulation.

“Officials should disclose their properties at once instead of being asked to do so,” he said. “In some previous cases, officials wearing luxury watches published details of their property only after university students questioned them and applied for disclosure.”

He said if the government can disclose information on its own initiative, corruption will be alleviated.

“In the regulation,??open’ has not become a principle. That is to say, the government has some room to choose what kind of information it can hide,” said Yang Weidong, a law professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance.

When information involves state and business secrets, officials’ privacy, or may be dangerous to social stability, it will not be disclosed, he said. But some administrations are using these terms as excuses to not disclose information.

Yang said officials often claim there is no information available, or it is not part of their duties to publish the information. This can n+egatively affect the development of an open government in the country, he added.

Jiang Ming’an, a law professor with Peking University, said the time is right to define what kind of information may affect social stability, otherwise the effect of disclosure will be weakened.

He said the best way to curb corruption still lies in the structural reform of management.

“Opening up government information can contribute to the anti-corruption drive, but it is not the key,” he added.

Klaus Rohland, World Bank representative for China, Mongolia and South Korea, agreed with Jiang. He said stamping out corruption is a long-term goal, and it took the US government more than 60 years to see results when it did it.

Anti-corruption efforts should start with the government decision-makers becoming known to the public so they can be held accountable in public forums such as micro blogs in China and Twitter in the US, Rohland said.

“The public has right to know what’s going on (in their country),” he added.

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