Saturday, April 28, 2007

New rules issued to require government transparency

Updated: 2007-04-24 15:38

China's State Council announced on Tuesday "landmark" new rules requiring government departments to be more open in information disclosures to boost official transparency.

The decree, which takes effect on May 1, 2008, was signed by Premier Wen Jiabao. It is likely to become the country's most specific and progressive set of rules encouraging the release of government information, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Calling it a "landmark" decision, Xinhua said the rules require governments at various levels to release information which "affects the immediate interests of individuals and groups" or which "should be known by the masses", within 20 working days.

According to the rules, subjects to be revealed include government departments plan to deal with emergencies, government spending, specific fees for public services and results of investigations into environmental protection, public health and food and drugs safety.
Local governments are required to publicize data on land acquisitions, residence relocations and related compensation, Xinhua quoted the rule as saying.

It specified that village authorities would have to publicize information on land use, financial accounting, the operation of rural collective enterprises and the family situations of village residents in order to ensure the fair enforcement of the family planning policy.

However, the regulation also set limits to public disclosure, saying that official information released "should not cause social instability and threaten the safety of the state, the public and the economy".

Governments should steer clear of releasing "state secrets, confidential commercial information and infringing on an individual's privacy", Xinhua said.

Confidential business information and private information of individuals contained in government databases should not be released without the consent of the person concerned.

Individuals who believe their interests have been harmed by the release of confidential information can sue for compensation, the rules say.

It is remarkable progress for China, a country where announcing the death toll of natural calamities was considered taboo for decades, Xinhua said.

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 Tuesday.

"In case the government fails to carry out its obligations defined by this decree, officials responsible should be punished if the violations are serious," its says.

It did not stipulate specific penalties but noted that serious offenders could be prosecuted. The rules also give the public the right to seek information that has been not included in official announcements through a written inquiry.

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