Will government disclosure bring fairness, equity?

08:30, July 28, 2011      

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The public expectations about the disclosure of the "three public consumptions" — the 2011 budget, expenditures of central government agencies for overseas trips and receptions, and the purchase and maintenance of official vehicles — goes past concerns about how much money is spent. Apart from disclosure, fairness and equity should also be taken into consideration.

The disclosure of "three public consumptions" is currently a hot topic of discussion. So far there are more than 80 percent of a total of 98 central government agencies that have disclosed how much has been spent in the past on such expenditure since the State Council urged the Party and government departments to make their financial information public.

Pubic disclosure doubtlessly means progress. It demonstrates the government's active initiative and stance on building a transparent and responsible government. More importantly, the interaction between supervision and response can enhance acknowledgement and trust and accelerate the development of China's socialist democracy.

So the query over disclose requires our attention. Is it necessary for officials of the National Population and Family Planning Commission to go abroad so frequently? Does the Ministry of Water Resources use a 100 million yuan expenditure on vehicle maintenance and purchase for work purposes? Where does the Chinese Academy of Sciences spend the daily average 270,000 yuan for reception? It is the original purpose of the disclosure and the responsibility of central government agencies to answer these questions.

The normal operation of Party and government departments needs funds. There is no problem with the administrative cost, but the account should be accurate and clear. It is reasonable to go abroad on official duties, but not acceptable to go abroad for fun. The public may understand a free meal while on the job but disapprove of "drinking Maotai for work."

Please hold your applause if some departments report no public consumptions: Maybe the departments either neglect or evade their duties or they tend to make up internal losses with external money and find someone else to cover their bills of vehicle, overseas trips and meals. The former is negligence of duties and the latter corruption. The public want to see neither of them.

There are reasons behind the query on the disclosure of "three public consumptions": some of the information disclosed is not well regulated and the public do not understand and make wild speculations. We should pay more attention to the unspoken words behind the query: The public care more about whether the money is reasonably and fairly spent.

The scope of the disclosure is limited so far. For instance, the fiscal budget released by the Ministry of Finance is not large enough to contain institutional and extra-budgetary revenue. The information disclosed so far is too general to satisfy the public query. As of the expenditure for the purchase and maintenance of vehicles, most of the departments only released some simple data, except for the National Audit Office, which disclosed the average spending on each vehicle. Disclosure lacks basic explanation. Some departments spent hundreds of millions of yuan on reception, but others only tens of thousands. The pubic found it hard to make comparison without staff number.

The purpose of disclosure is supervision, but disclosure with inconsistencies, different standards, unclear content and vague meanings goes against its original intention. The aforementioned problems need improvement. The departments should avoid generality when working out a budget. They must improve the supervision system and establish an accountability system.

The comparison of the "three public consumptions" can show whether some departments meddle in others’ businesses and whether they should transfer some of their functions to others so as to realize the fairness and equity of the "three public consumptions." Supervision can be realized only through complete disclosure and thus helps evaluate the value and efficiency of administrative cost.

Disclosure marks the beginning of the "three public consumptions." We hope relevant departments offer a timely response to the public query of their own initiative and government departments practice strict economy. We also hope central government agencies, with the disclosure of the "three public consumptions" as a turning point, make administrative cost more reasonable and the financial system more transparent.

By Zhang Xinyi, People's Daily Online
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