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Law to promote govt transparency
By Wang Jingqiong (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-11-03 08:20

Government bodies failing to publicize information legally required to be made public may face lawsuits, according to a draft regulation issued by the Supreme People's Court (SPC) Monday.

Any individual citizen, legal representative or organization can file a lawsuit if they object to the government practice of not publicizing information, said the draft.

The draft regulation was published on the website to seek public advice and suggestions.

The regulation is believed to be a major move to help improve transparency of government work in the country.

Based on the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information and China Administrative Procedural Law, the new regulations are aimed at standardizing trials of cases about government information transparency.

According to the SPC, the public has been making requests for government information since the code took effect on May 1, 2008. It stipulates that government departments should publicize information like budgets, social welfare projects, and economic statistics, and also gives people the right to ask for information that should be public.

Although the code enables the public to sue government departments, problems have been emerging in the public-access trials about the implementation of the code.

For example, "if you want to sue a government department for not providing the information, the court might simply refuse to accept the case," said Ren Jianming, a public administration professor of Tsinghua University.

Legal experts said the SPC regulation will help "standardize and guide trials".

The regulation came as a signal from judicial department officials that they will actively address such cases, resulting from the public's need for wider access to government information, Ren said.

According to the regulation, if government department officials refuse to provide information because they think it is private or a "national or business secret", they have to provide evidence that the material is confidential.

More public-access lawsuits will be accepted by courts and these will in turn prompt governments to be more transparent, Ren said.

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However, Gu Haibin, a law professor from Renmin University of China, thinks that more legislation should be made requiring transparency of government information, and that more needs to be publicized.

"Transparency of government should be written into law, not just a code," Gu said. "The top legislature should make a more specific explanation on what should not be publicized."

Asking for government information is still risky, like the recent example of a man asking for details of budgets in different cities, Gu said.

On Oct 9, Li Detao, a 26-year-old man working in a financial company, asked financial bureaus in Shanghai and Guangzhou for government expense budgets. Eight days later, he received different answers.

Guangzhou bureau officials told Li that they will publicize the budget on its website. Later that day the website of Guangzhou finance bureau was overloaded by 40,000 Internet users after the bureau released detailed government expense budgets available for free download by the public.

Li's answer from the Shanghai finance bureau was that they cannot publicize information about the budget as "the budget is a national secret".

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