The State Council, China's cabinet, on Tuesday issued what some
commentators are calling a milestone regulation to boost official
transparency by ordering government departments to be more open in
The decree, signed by Premier Wen Jiabao, is likely to become the country's
most specific and progressive set of rules encouraging the release
of government information, when it takes effect on May 1, 2008.
The new regulation, is seen by the government as a move to
improve efficiency and prevent abuses of power. "It will also
safeguard the public's right to know, the right to participate and
the right to supervise," said Zhang Qiong, deputy director of the
Legislative Office of the State Council.
"The regulation will help curb corruption at its source, largely
reducing its occurrence," Zhang said at a press conference on
Governments at all levels will be required to compile
information directories, that will include the name, address,
telephone and fax numbers, and e-mail addresses of departments and
people who are responsible for releasing official information.
Government departments will be checked regularly to see whether
they are withholding information and the public is encouraged to
report information blackouts, the decree says.
"In case the government fails to carry out its obligations
defined by this decree, officials responsible should be punished if
the violations are serious," it says. It did not stipulate specific
penalties but noted that serious offenders could be prosecuted.
The rules also give the citizens the right to seek information
that has been not included in official announcements through a
Upon receiving the inquiry, the administrative staff should
respond immediately or within 30 days at the latest.
The regulation also reminds governments to steer clear of
releasing "state secrets, confidential commercial information and
infringing on an individual's privacy".
When in doubt, officials should consult the country's laws to
determine whether or not it is inappropriate to make certain
information public, the regulation says. If they cannot decide,
they should first report to higher authorities," it says.
Confidential business information and private information of
individuals contained in government databases should not be
released without the consent of the person. Administrative staff
can only make public confidential information when they believe not
releasing it would seriously harm the public interest.
Zhang Qiong said information regarding major economic crimes,
business fraud and sex offences are examples of cases where the
public interest out weights the protection of individual
Individuals who believe their interests have been harmed by the
release of confidential information can sue for compensation, the
Government transparency must strike a balance between keeping
state secrets, making government affairs public and safeguarding
the public's right to know, said Qin Hai, head of the task force
charged with promoting government transparency.
Wang Yukai, a professor with China National School of
Administration, says the regulation will ensure both the public and
the government share the same information and effectively prevent
under table operations of government affairs."
However, some scholars think the new regulation doesn't go far
Wang Xisheng, a professor with China's elite Peking University,
said that the government's current practice of releasing
information fails to meet the demands of the people.
He also worries that some government officials might reserve and
control information rather than make in public.
State secrets are defined by the Law on Guarding State Secrets
include classified information concerning major policy decisions on
state affairs, national defence and the activities of the armed
forces, diplomatic activities, national economic and social
development, and science and technology, state security activities
and the investigation of criminal offences, and other matters that
are classified as state secrets by the state secret protection
department. Currently, more than 80 percent of county-level
governments have set up websites, according to a leading group
under the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in
promoting government transparency.
China central government launched its website in 2006. It
provides information on government affairs, on-line services and
interactive communication between governments and citizens.
(Xinhua News Agency April 24, 2007)