Fiscal budgets should not be state secrets

By Liang Fafu
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, October 27, 2009
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Recently, the Guangzhou Finance Bureau puts the year's fiscal budget in detail online for the public to download for free. This is the first time such a thing has happened in China. The promoter, Li Detao, is a volunteer observer of municipal government budgets. He also appealed to the Shanghai government to publicize its fiscal budget, but the Shanghai government defined it as a "state secret" and refused to reveal the data.

Shanghai's response represents a typical attitude of some government departments. It's time to answer the following question: when and in which law has fiscal budget become a "state secret?" It is true that China once listed it as a state secret. In Provisional Regulations on State Secrets enacted in 1951, the "national financial plan, budgetary estimate, budget, actual budget and other confidential financial issues" were among the top secrets of the country. However, the regulations were abandoned with the Secrecy Law, enacted on May 1, 1989. In other words, defining government budget as a "state secret" lacks legal basis.

Publicizing the government's budget is a common practice in the world and is what a democratic country should do. One hundred years ago, Chinese intellectuals studying in Japan were deeply impressed by the openness of the Japanese government in regards to the budget. The intellectuals appealed to the Chinese government at that time to do the same thing. Their request shocked the Qing government, which had a tradition of keeping financial matters confidential. Now, China is reforming its public financial sector to establish a healthy budget system called "sunny finance." It aims at putting the budget under the sun, open to supervision. Only then will black box operations and private manipulation be put an end. In other words, making government budget a state secret runs in the opposite direction of reform.

Publicizing the government's budget also embodies political ethics. Every dollar the government makes is contributed by citizens. People entrust their fortune to the government to get public goods and services in return. There is no reason for the government to keep it a secret from the public about how their taxes are used. Although the Regulations of the People's Republic of China on the Disclosure of Government Information do not explicitly mention releasing government budget information, the principle of the regulations as well as the Secrecy Law is "openness is basic with confidentiality exceptional." Therefore, government information not stated as "confidential" by laws, including fiscal budgets, should be open to the public.

Although publicizing government budget data is common sense, some local governments and public departments are fighting against the people's demand and are struggling with a law that was abandoned 20 years ago. It sounds so ridiculous. At the same time, I couldn't help but wonder: how many abandoned laws are still in use today?

(This article was first published in Chinese on China Youth Daily and translated by Ren Zhongxi for

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