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Govt bodies flunk 'transparency' test

(China Daily)

09:21, September 29, 2011

BEIJING - On a recent test meant to gauge the transparency of government agencies, 35 out of the State Council's 43 departments received failing grades.

The institution that did the worst was the Ministry of Supervision, the very ministry responsible for making sure officials release information in accordance with the law.

The report, published by Peking University's Center for Public Participation Studies and Supports, said governmental agencies are still reluctant to disclose information in a timely manner even though China's regulation on government information disclosure, the first of its kind in the country, was adopted in 2008.

After polling about 200 government administrations in the past year, professors and students from eight universities throughout the country concluded that provincial governments are more willing to disclose information than are central departments. They also said officials in coastal areas are more forthcoming than their inland counterparts.

Among the information sought from governmental bodies during the test were annual per capita budgets and minutes from public hearings that were held in the past year.

In the central government, eight departments out of 43 scored more than 60 points on the test; their average score was 51.

The best test results were secured by the country's intellectual property office, followed by the banking regulatory commission and the family planning commission. On the other end of the scale were the Railways Ministry, the State Council's Legislative Affairs Office and the Ministry of Supervision, the same agencies that had ranked at the bottom the year before.

Wang Jingbo, a China University of Political Science and Law professor who also took part in the research, said one reason the three departments barely improved in the past year is that "their attitudes haven't changed".

"When we called officials in the State Council's legislative office and asked them to release an opinion solicited on a draft law, they simply said they didn't have to disclose that," she said. "As for those who responded to our application, the information they offered usually lacked substance."

As for the Ministry of Supervision, it is responsible for overseeing governmental bodies and officials. It is also charged with investigating governmental agencies that have been accused of withholding information in violation of the law.

The study also reported that almost none of the Red Cross Society of China's branches responded to the researchers' request for information.

"To improve the quality of the contents, the State Council should publish standards that make clear what should be put in an information-disclosure report," said Wang Xixin, director of the public participation center.

"Access to government information is the cornerstone of government supervision," said Ying Songnian, a senior legal expert on administrative laws.

"How can we know how they spend tax money if we can't even see annual budgets?"

In a recent case, a Tsinghua University student named Li Yan started legal proceedings against three central departments who turned down her requests for information. For a paper she was writing, Li had asked for information about the responsibilities of the vice-ministers of every central department. The local court hasn't decided if the case can be filed.

Li said her attempt to learn more about the government has been discouraging.

"Requesting governmental information, which is part of the people's right to know, just takes up too much time and energy."

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