Guangzhou city government has taken the bold step of putting the financial budgets of 114 departments in the public spotlight.
(It is reported the Shanghai government refuses to follow suit, claiming the same type of information was a state secret. A government spokesman said that, while it was not a formal requirement to disclose departmental budgets, the city pledged to explore ways to make the information available for public viewing in future. No timetable was mentioned.)
The standard, therefore, seems to be arbitrary, and now public pressure is building on other governments to do follow Guangzhou’s lead.
After the open-government information regulation came into effect last May, Paul Li Detao, an activist and a financial analyst with a Shenzhen private asset management firm, and his colleagues applied to more than 30 central government bureaus and district governments to read their budgets in a bid to gather information for a research project on China’s government finances.
Li said, "Last year, both the Shanghai and Guangzhou governments rejected our requests, saying the information we wanted was a state secret. The Health Ministry did not publish its budget, but we were allowed to read it on the condition that no photocopies would be made.
"This year, I’m really surprised to learn that last year’s state secrets have become public information in Guangzhou. It’s a good thing for the public to become more aware of their rights and begin engaging in discussion over public finances."
Professor Hu Xingdou, seen in our illustration, a Beijing-based economist, said, "Allowing public monitoring is the fundamental solution to cracking down on corruption."
Asia’s Finest reported that Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences’ researcher Peng Peng said, "Sooner or later, local governments will have to own up to their responsibilities to make taxpayers knowledgeable of how their money is being spent. It’s just a matter of time, depending on how reform progresses."