BEIJING -- When Wu Yi, China's only female vice premier in the cabinet,
joined lawmakers from Zhejiang Province in a panel discussion on March 7, they
didn't prepare for an apology from the "iron lady", who successfully steered
China's negotiations into the World Trade Organization.
"People are dissatisfied, and I feel guilty for that. I should apologize to
you," said silver-haired Wu for failing to check soaring medical expenses,
pledging to the lawmakers that the government will make utmost efforts to tackle
She was followed by Education Minister Zhou Ji, who apologized for his
ministry's insufficient work to provide equal education in the country on March
9 during an interview with Xinhuanet.com on the sidelines of the annual session
of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature.
The two were joined by Zhou Shengxian, head of the State Environment
Protection Administration (SEPA).
While addressing a panel discussion, Zhou bowed to lawmakers from Shanxi
Province and confessed that the country's failure to achieve the goals of
reducing energy consumption and major pollutants discharge last year was a
result of weak supervision and insufficient investment by his administration.
"These gestures from the high-ranking officials showed that the government
has fully recognized the inadequate work with a down-to- earth manner, other
than always focusing on achievements," said Liu Dongrong, a deputy to the NPC.
In the current transitional period, the government has been confronted with
unprecedented challenges including inadequate health care, worsening pollution
and widening social inequality, which can barely be solved by merely emphasizing
GDP growth, said Liu, a professor from central Hunan Province.
"If the government failed to do a good job, government officials must
apologize or give explanations, simply because it is their responsibility," said
Li Lu'er, an NPC deputy from Zhejiang Province.
"There is no perfect government that never makes mistakes," said Prof. Ren
Jianming with the School of Government Research at Qinghua University. "The
criteria of a reliable government lies in its attitude when facing up mistakes."
Indeed, aside from apologies, the government is trying to provide practical
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pledged that the government will meet the energy
saving and pollution control targets between 2006 and 2010 despite last year's
setback, saying "the targets can't be revised and we must work resolutely to
Wu Yi promised that the government will tighten the supervision over small
workshops, food stores, stalls and eateries, where food poisoning accidents are
most likely to happen. The government will also tighten the monitoring of the
food and drug businesses in the production and distribution fields, Wu said.
As for the educational sectors, Zhou Ji vowed to complete nine- year
compulsory education in China's western regions by the end of the year while
Zhou Shengxian pledged to launch another three regional environment watchdogs in
Chengdu, Xi'an and Shenyang in 2007 aside from the two in Guangzhou and Shanghai
to ensure local governments abide by environment protection laws and
These solutions are also response to the increasing supervision from
lawmakers and public opinions, which urged government officials to timely
address the social problems, said Prof. Ren Jianming.
As China's top legislature, the annual full session of the NPC with around
3,000 deputies across China mainly reviews what government has done in the past
year and map out the blueprint for next year.
"It (the NPC) is actually the annual open assessment from the public on the
government work," said Prof. Liu Dongrong.
With increasing government transparency and a maturing official
accountability system, Chinese officials are facing rising pressure from public
opinions, which requires them to shoulder the responsibility once they fail to
do what they are suppose to.
The latest high-profile case occurred in February 2005 when Liu Guoqiang,
vice governor of northeastern Liaoning Province, was suspended from his post
after a local coal mine explosion killed 214 people. In 2003, China dismissed a
naval commander after a deadly submarine accident and sacked the country's
health minister and the Beijing mayor for covering up the SARS crisis.
"But under a perfect accountability system, officials can not just make
apologies or wait to be fired after failing to fulfill their duty. They should
always put people first in their work," said Ren Jianming, adding that the
premier task of a civil servant is to serve the people, not to take the
advantage of them.
To remind officials of their duty, President Hu Jintao urged civil servants
at all levels to have a sense of serving the people, a sense of frugality and a
sense of crisis during a panel discussion with lawmakers from Chongqing during
the parliament session.
Also, Premier Wen Jiabao said in the government work report delivered to
nearly 3,000 lawmakers last Monday that the buildup of an efficient and clean
government that better serves the people will top the cabinet's agenda this
"Making apology is just a beginning, and the action after that is more
crucial, which needs joint efforts of civil servants at all levels," said Ren
Jianming, adding that the central government has already set an example for
"Once the promise is made, government officials have no leeway. They must
honor their words," said Zhang Liansheng, an NPC deputy from southeastern Fujian