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Good Governance Means Better Services

The Beijing traffic authorities have decided to post rule violation and punishment information to perpetrators from August 20.

Before the 10th day of each month, letters will be sent to wrongdoers, and if contact is not made, phone calls will be placed to ensure the wayward drivers be informed about their traffic law infringements.

This may seem of only minor interest as surely this is a natural practice for the authorities. But those familiar with the Du Baoliang incident in May will understand the significance of the announcement.

Du, a vegetable peddler, was required to pay fines of more than 10,000 yuan (US$1,230), almost equal to his yearly income, because he made the same illegal turn past a no-entry sign 105 times in 10 months. The crux is, he had never explicitly been informed of his mistake.

The case has sparked waves of anger directed at the municipal traffic bureau because of its failure to inform Du of his first violation or at least at an early possible time.

Poor old Du is not the first, nor the last, victim of the system that does not promptly inform road users of their mistakes, which may well continue until a huge stack of accumulated fines turn up.

It is not because Du was fined big bucks, but because the bureau failed to adhere to proper procedure that has aroused widespread public criticism.

According to the country's Administrative Punishment Law, before making the decision to impose administrative punishments, related parties must be notified of the facts, reasons and grounds on which decisions are made as well as the rights they are entitled to enjoy.

The decision to post punishment notices is obviously to make up for past improprieties. The municipal traffic bureau is legally bound to introduce the measure.

It is worth noting that the public, experts and traffic officials all approach the matter from a legal perspective. They are right, but should not be confined to this sphere in their investigations of the ramifications of the Du affair.

The bureau is not only legally but also morally bound to inform men such as Du of their violations. It is a matter of appropriate relations between the government and the people.

It is the duty of the traffic bureau as a government department to provide a high quality service. It should, for example, make traffic markings and signs clear, as many drivers complain they can be misleading.

The bureau should also respect the right of traffic rule breakers to be informed of any punishment and help them find out what has happened.

It is better for the government to provide convenient services, as the Beijing traffic bureau has decided to do.

The bureau used to release information about traffic violations on its website and through the radio. Drivers can also send short messages or make expensive calls 10 times the price of ordinary services to get the information.

It is not a matter whether drivers are legally or morally obliged to look for the information by themselves. What has happened indicates the bureau has at least ignored those who do not have easy access to those channels.

The will to provide better services exists, to varying degrees, in many government departments. The Beijing traffic bureau has made a belated but nevertheless honourable start. Others should follow suit if there is room for improvement.

(China Daily August 5, 2005)

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