A push for transparency

Updated: 2011-08-16 08:10

(China Daily)

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In spite of all the progress made since the Regulations on Government Information Disclosure came into effect on May 1, 2008, the fact is that obtaining information from government agencies remains a major challenge for individual citizens in this country.

The regulations stipulate that government offices have an obligation to publish all information regarding the institution and its operation, with the exception of properly defined "secrets". However, few of them have honored that obligation in the past three years. Even those that have reluctantly done so have shilly-shallied about what people are truly concerned about.

The reports on san gong expenses, public money spent on buying and maintaining vehicles, overseas trips and receptions, for instance, are, without exception, vague and devoid of substance.

Everybody has the right to issue a request for disclosure under the new rule. Yet the process for an individual citizen to obtain the information from government bureaucracies has turned out to be unusually frustrating. Few have the patience and tenacity.

The Supreme People's Court's latest decisions on the deliberation of administrative litigations concerning government information disclosure may make a difference, because they will at the very least serve as a reminder to those turned off by the bureaucratic information blackout that the obligation for information disclosure exists. The option to take the issue to court may at the same time apply additional pressure to those accustomed to keeping the public in the dark.

The special significance of the Supreme Court's decisions lies in the fact that they are quite specific about the scope of litigations. The national court system is required to accept and put on file five categories of administrative litigations involving government information disclosure, according to the new rules. The first category includes all litigations where government offices refuse or fail to reply to requests for government information disclosure within a stipulated period of time.

Given the prevailing concern that demands of individual citizens may easily be brushed aside under impeccable bureaucratic pretexts - such as protecting State secrets - the Supreme Court's decisions will be a timely boost that may add some teeth to the information disclosure act.

Still it remains to be seen whether or not the courts will play their proper role. A China Youth Daily report that some local courts in Heilongjiang province refused to hear cases of administrative disputes based on "internal documents" is a worrisome sign of administrative meddling in judicial practice.

The courts' lack of independence from local administrative authorities has the potential to constantly derail judicial proceedings, which is why people still have doubts.

(China Daily 08/16/2011 page8)