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Tell us what officials own: Poll
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By Xiang Bin

After 13 months in the making, China's first ever decree on open government was enacted on May 1, 2008. Aimed at enhancing citizens' rights to obtain information about the workings of government, it indicates a shift towards openness and transparency on the part of the authorities.

The decree states that all government information should be assumed to be in the public domain, unless it infringes state secrets, trade secrets or individual privacy. It places an obligation on government bodies at all levels to take the initiative in bringing information into the open, and gives private citizens the right to request information.

Public in favor of the decree

An opinion poll organized by China Youth Daily and Sina.com shows an overwhelming majority in favor of the decree. 56.2 percent of the 3837 people polled think it will guarantee citizens’ rights to obtain information, while 43.4 percent consider the regulation an opportunity to modify government behavior.

"If information was more open and transparent, people would feel safer," said Mr Li, who works at a Beijing advertising company, "SARS caused such terrible chaos precisely because important information was kept secret."

"It is an obligation and responsibility of government to bring information into the open," Professor Yan Jirong from Peking University commented.

A weapon in the fight against corruption

Asked how they would exercise their new rights, over half of those polled said they would use them to fight government corruption. Professor Yan said, "The decree has equipped citizens with legal weapons; if the government does not fulfill its duties, the regulations can be used to protect our rights."

Huang Hun, a Wuhan University student, said transparency is the key in the fight against corruption, "most of the time government finances are kept secret, and secrecy can breed corruption."

People want property holdings of officials made public

65.5 percent of those polled said "if necessary", they would "request information from government departments"; 23.5 percent said "it would depend on the situation"; only 11 percent said they "would not request information."

If they fail to get the information they want, 34.1 percent said they would "seek help from the media", 23.5 percent would "continue to apply according to the Regulation", 22.6 percent said they would try "to get information through the back door", and 19.8 percent said they would "give up".

When asked what information they were most interested in, 77.5 said the property holdings of government officials, and 71.3 percent chose government budget reports and accounts.

"The decree in itself is just a step in the right direction, the main thing is to make sure it is enforced", said Professor Zhan Jiang at the China Youth Institute of Political Science.

(China.org.cn May 16, 2008)

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