China / Hot Issues

Information transparency a test for Beijing govt

(Xinhua) Updated: 2012-07-26 21:01

BEIJING - Information transparency has become another big test for the Beijing municipal government after it failed to respond to street talk over "withheld updates" on the death toll from the heaviest rain in 61 years.

The death toll was raised to 37 on Sunday night, a day after the torrential rain battered the Chinese capital. But no updates on the deaths were released in the following four days even as people were speculating over the Internet that the toll could be much higher.

City authorities have pledged not to repeat the opaque handling of the deadly SARS outbreak in 2003, but the slowness in updating the deaths have left the general public enraged and perplexed.

The then health minister and Beijing mayor were sacked due to the opaque communication and even deliberate cover-up in battling the SARS epidemic. The city's irresponsible response meant people died and what was worse, eroded the public's trust in government.

Again the city government faces a test of information transparency and the history should have taught it a lesson: a more open approach to disaster is undeniably the right choice.

At a press briefing on Wednesday night, the city government said the rainstorm inflicted a direct economic loss of 11.6 billion yuan ($1.8 billion). But it did not provide the update on death toll -- a question that mostly concerned reporters at the press conference as well as the general public.

Many users of Sina Weibo, China's popular Twitter-like microblogging service, said it should be easier to count the dead bodies than the economic losses.

An article carried in Thursday's edition of The People's Daily, the flagship newspaper of the Communist Party of China (CPC), said though the city government pledged no cover-up of the death toll after the SARS case, but the public's concerns couldn't recede until the final figure was out.

A swift release of authoritative information still had the room to crush untrue rumors even in the age of social media, the commentary said.

"Information disclosure is a dynamic process rather than a static product," it said. "Only by responding to public concerns through various channels in a timely manner, can we better guarantee people's right to know and to a larger extent win the recognition and support of people from all walks of life."

Meanwhile, the authorities' insufficient weather alert and disaster rescue also sparked a public backlash.

Few of the city's 20 million residents received government-initiated rainstorm alerts telling them how severe the rain would be. Also a man was reportedly killed after being trapped inside his car in deep water in downtown Beijing for hours before government rescue workers came to pull him out.

If the money equivalent to the loss was spent on renovating the city's drainage system and disaster-prone low-lying roads years ago, the economic losses could have been avoided, wrote "Zuojiayuantaiji" on Sina Weibo. "That would be a big win."

The Beijing Daily, the city government's mouthpiece, examined the tragedy in a commentary published Wednesday, urging that in the future, more government funds should be earmarked to infrastructure in the suburbs, which covers 90 percent of the city's total area, as more losses were reported in many ecologically fragile mountainous regions this time.

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