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Cablegate: Guangzhou Government Offers Foia with Chinese

VZCZCXRO6474
RR RUEHCN RUEHGH RUEHVC
DE RUEHGZ #0158/01 0770605
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 170605Z MAR 08
FM AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6974
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 GUANGZHOU 000158

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/CM

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV SOCI CH
SUBJECT: GUANGZHOU GOVERNMENT OFFERS FOIA WITH CHINESE
CHARACTERISTICS


1. (U) SUMMARY: A groundbreaking 2007 Guangzhou law ordering
government to share information with the public is imperfect but
represents an important development in official transparency.
Though the law theoretically gives individuals the right to have
their queries answered promptly and at no cost, in practice many
types of information are off-limits (there are many prohibited
areas) and applicants sometimes face fees and delays. Public
awareness of the law is low, even among academic experts in
government transparency. In spite of these challenges, many of our
contacts view the law as a positive -- if mostly symbolic -- step
toward government efficiency and transparency. Shanghai and Hunan
province already have passed their own regulations on
information-sharing; a set of regulations mandating government
transparency and disclosure for the Chinese national government will
go into effect May 1, 2008. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) The city of Guangzhou, long a pioneer in China's transition
to a free market economy, is also leading the way in government
transparency legislation. In 2003, Guangzhou's municipal government
was the first in China to announce regulations on government
openness. On May 1, 2007, these regulations became law as the
"Measures for Sharing Governmental Information upon Request in
Guangzhou." The city is the first in mainland China to mandate
sharing government information with the public.

3. (U) The law is based on three principles, according to Dr. Peng
Peng, professor of politics at the Guangzhou Academy of Social
Sciences, a government-funded think tank. First, anyone can request
information. Any resident of China, Hong Kong, Macau, or a foreign
country may request information from the Guangzhou government.
Second, the information must be provided free of charge. Third, an
official reply to the request must be made within 45 days, with
penalties for failing to meet the deadline without a valid
explanation.

-------------------------
It's Not Easy Being Clean
-------------------------

4. (U) The ambitious nature of the law is tempered in practice,
where long-held customs of government secrecy combine with
bureaucratic inefficiency to resist change. Problems include:

-- Not all information is accessible. Prohibited categories are:
state secrets, commercial secrets, personal private information,
corruption of government or party leaders, government internal
official documents, draft rules and regulations, information that
could impact law enforcement, information protected by law, and
information already released to the public.

-- It is not always free. Guangzhou municipal government bureaus
receive funds from the local government to institute transparency
reforms, but some are still charging fees -- to look up a license at
the real estate bureau, for example -- because they claim the
government funds are insufficient to cover the costs involved. Peng
says this shows that the reforms have not yet gone deep enough; the
charging of illegal fees can easily lead to official corruption.

-- It is not always shared. The Guangzhou bureaucracy, like many
others, has many agencies that are reluctant to share information
with one another. They have computer or filing systems that other
agencies cannot use, and some charge other bureaus for access. Peng
calls this practice self-defeating. "If you're not transparent to
yourself, how can you be transparent to the people?" he asks.
Information is power in any bureaucracy, and some bureaus work
around competing agencies or even at cross-purposes with them, as
each seeks to protect its own turf.

-- The government is not always polite or timely. Customer service
is still a new idea in China, so citizens often face delays,
surliness, or incompetence from local government workers. Peng says
the government is working hard to improve both attitude and
delivery, and that the 45-day cap on government responses should
help speed things up.

-- Not everyone knows about the law. In a visit to Guangzhou's Jinan
University, the majority of a group of government professors had no
knowledge of the 2007 law. While some knew of it generally, or had
stories of how certain tasks -- such as getting a passport -- are
much easier to get done now than in the past, most said the law had
little or no impact on their lives. One professor called the reform
"more symbolic than practical."

--------------------------
Guangzhou Leads the Nation
--------------------------

5. (U) As a historic center for trade and economic reforms,

GUANGZHOU 00000158 002 OF 002


Guangzhou was a natural choice to lead the country on government
transparency, according to Peng. "Businesses need this kind of
transparency in order to operate," he said. Moreover, Guangzhou
officials have constant exposure to the best practices of
businessmen from around the world -- especially Hong Kong and Taiwan
-- who flock to South China to invest. Peng also noted that in the
competitive world of business development, Guangzhou's leaders
consider these reforms necessary to keep investors coming.

6. (U) Transparency reforms are also a high priority for the
province's leaders. Peng told us that Party Secretary Wang Yang, who
in his previous posting in Chongqing won a reputation as a champion
of transparency reforms, made clear when he arrived in Guangdong
that he had President Hu Jintao's support to carry out the reform
program here as well.

------------
Will It Work?
-------------

7. (U) COMMENT: Despite the rhetoric of reform, it is difficult to
measure the impact the new regulations are having in Guangzhou. The
government has not released statistics tracking how many requests
have been made or responded to, or any tangible measures showing how
or if the new law has changed the way business is done in Guangzhou.
Many citizens do not seem aware of the law, with even fewer using
it to request information. It remains to be seen if the impact of
the 2007 transparency law will match the government's high hopes for
it. END COMMENT.

GOLDBERG

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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