Gov't missed aim of budget release

By Gong Wen
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, July 21, 2011
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Per a three-year old law on the disclosure of government information, central government departments recently released the long-awaited budgets for the "three public expenditures," which consist of official vehicles, trips overseas by officials and receptions for visiting officials. But even though the law aimed to create more governmental transparency, the release of the budgets has failed to accomplish this goal to the disappointment of the public.

Tactful transparency [By Jiao Haiyang/]

Tactful transparency  [By Jiao Haiyang/] 

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress earlier this year passed an ordinance requesting that all 98 central government departments release information about their expenditures by June. Many departments were slow to follow the order, and the final release missed the deadline by a month. Nearly 70 percent of departments, including the State Tax Administration and the Ministry of Railway, did not even report their budgets. Furthermore, the government provided no detailed data or explicit explanations for the numbers.

The implementation of the disclosure law has so far been unsatisfactory. In practice, disclosures have been rough and arbitrary and far from institutionalized. The range of information to be disclosed must be expanded to all governmental affairs, as well as their corresponding expenses and the incomes and assets of officials. Details, from the use of paper to the specific dishes served at a reception banquet, should be included and ready for the public to inspect.

Hong Kong has practiced this kind of transparency for years and is a good example for the mainland to follow. There needs to be more specific and stricter requirements for governments on releasing information. Who to release the information, what sort of information to release, when the information should be released and how it should be released all need to be explained and carried out.

Even if those things happen at both the central government level and lower levels of government, it is not enough. People want more than just the right to know; they are more eager to witness a better government. Thus, the goal of disclosure is not merely to let people know what happens and how it happens, but more importantly, to avoid waste and corruption and build a transparent, thrifty and efficient government.

More importance needs to be attached to the questions "why" and "what achievements have been made?" For example, why choose a 270,000-yuan car instead of a cheaper model? Or why go abroad in person instead of using modern communication tools? What results will such costs bring? Governments need to answer these questions.

Such questions must be reinforced with a comprehensive supervision and penalty system. Self-discipline, as corruption cases have proven, is not enough. Should the misuse of funds, waste and corruption be uncovered by the media, the public or even governments themselves, those responsible must be punished.

There is large room for improvement and a long way to go toward a complete and comprehensive system for government information disclosure. The government should speed up the process because people refuse to wait long.

Gong Wen is a visiting scholar at the School of Journalism and Communication at Tsinghua University.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of


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