Honesty and emergencies

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, August 4, 2011
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The joint appeal by the general offices of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the State Council for transparency in administration is an attempt to show our bureaucratic establishments the way out of a deepening credibility distress.

And they should take it, as it is the only way out. The Internet has provided a handy platform for ordinary citizens to air their concerns about the conduct of public servants and institutions, and the days when public servants could act arbitrarily, declaring it to be for the public good, are gone.

Public opinions aired online may not be 100 percent representative. But they can be powerful catalysts in the formulation of negative perceptions of our public powers.

The Ministry of Railways' awkward handling of the Wenzhou train collision is a vivid demonstration that the old cover-up tricks and hide-and-seek obfuscation are obsolete and useless in the Internet era.

The Red Cross Society of China (RCSC) is also being grilled by a distrustful and inquisitive public, and despite its pleas for understanding, the disgraced institution has little chance of escaping the public's scrutiny.

Video-ready cell phones and micro blogs have armed the public with the means to circumvent misdirection and misinformation so well that the room for bureaucratic manipulation of the facts has shrunk considerably. Not to mention that the spread of information, the negative in particular, is hard to control and now occurs almost instantaneously.

Given the disappointing behavior of public institutions which has been revealed in a variety of recent scandals, they share a heavy burden in trying to prove their innocence and honesty when something bad happens.

A document of such a comprehensive nature does not seem to be an expediency hurriedly tailored to meet immediate needs. Instead, the call by the CPC and the government for timely and complete information-sharing in the event of major incidents represents an informed judgment as it points to the very roots of public disbelief - our public institutions' obsession with information control, and not just in emergencies.

Both the Ministry of Railways and the RCSC have complained they have been wronged by the accusations and suspicions of the public. But few outside these institutions feel that way. Through their initial ambiguity in responding to public inquiries and attempts to cover things up, they are reaping the harvest of the seeds of distrust they sowed themselves. There is no way forward except to be honest.

The previous regulations on government information disclosure have obviously failed to instill a sense of urgency in public institutions. Whether the new document will produce the desired results is yet to be seen. But it will definitely do no good if it is simply ignored like its predecessor.

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