The State Council (cabinet) on Wednesday released a new regulation on the publication of government information on its working procedures and many matters of public concern, such as land acquisition for development.
The 22-article regulation, which takes effect on Thursday, aims to "improve transparency and protect the right to know and public scrutiny of official acts," said Zhang Qiong, deputy director of the Legal Affairs Office of the State Council.
The regulation states that all administrations must actively publicize information on issues that concern the vital interests of individuals or organizations, information that requires public awareness or participation and information about the administration's working procedures.
The regulation, posted on the central government site www.gov.cn, emphasized that governments under the prefectural level should provide timely dissemination of information about governmental land acquisitions from farmers or citizens and relevant compensation (which would be similar to the process of eminent domain).
Land acquisition for real estate or other uses by local governments has been a heated issue between governments and the public in China and often leads to serious conflicts.
Information on the distribution and use of public donations or central government appropriations for disaster relief should also be publicized by local governments, it said.
The regulation includes a "freedom of information" provision that gives the public, whether individuals or organizations, the right to request government information by making a written application (paper or electronic).
Government bodies should respond to such applications and inform the applicants of whether the information could be released, it said, which should be done in as many cases as possible.
If the request concerned proprietary commercial information or private information about a third party, the government body should acquire the third party's permission before release, it added.
The regulation bans government agencies from making a profit from the release of official information, allowing them only to charge necessary fees for searching, copying and mailing. Fees could be reduced or waived if applicants could show economic need, it said.
The State Council asked local governments to draw up detailed plans for compliance with the regulation no later than the end of October.