Some 31 of the 48 departments of the Shijiazhuang municipal government have their own websites, but an investigation found 24 of them to be inactive. What's more, in this capital of north China's Hebei Province, the same applied to 12 of the 20 county-level government websites.
It was Fan Xianlin, deputy secretary-general of the Shijiazhuang municipal government and director of the Shijiazhuang Municipal Information Center, who drew attention to this in early August. Not only did the media carry the story but also mentioned the departments involved by name.
The Yanzhao Evening News reported that some of the information on the website run by the provincial capital's Civil Affairs Bureau was inaccurate. For example, its homepage had a column headed "Shijiazhuang Holding Center" but the name had been changed to the "Shijiazhuang Relief Center" a long time previously. "I'm not quite clear about that information," said an official from the bureau.
The newspaper also revealed that no one could access the website run by the Municipal Water Conservancy Bureau. An employee there admitted that the bureau had not updated the site since it had been set up in 2001. He cited lack of funds and technical personnel as the reason for this, saying with concern, "Government websites are really just an empty 'shell.' Little attention is paid to them by the higher authorities so they are given a low priority by those responsible for looking after them."
The various websites that found themselves named in the media have given a number of reasons for their inactivity. These included alterations to the sites or inability to disclose information, which was classed as "state secrets" and so couldn't be made public.
Director Fan Xianlin identified three ways in which the government websites were failing to deliver. Some had been set up too quickly with insufficient operating support and so were being flooded with junk mail leading to slow response times. Some existed in name only. Others had software problems preventing effective interaction with the public.
Fan said, "Inactive government websites are common across the country as a whole. The low uptake of e-government springs from old habits rather than from gaps in technology. Some leaders know little about the rapid development of the Internet."
Senior officials involved with the Shijiazhuang municipal government website have not sought to evade the problem. On the contrary, they have posted reports addressing the issues on their homepage.
(China Youth Daily, translated by Li Jingrong for China.org.cn, August 19, 2004)