Opinion / Editorials

Government not above law

(China Daily) Updated: 2014-08-13 07:32

On the one hand, the local authorities in Beijing insist that they have conducted "intensive" and "active communication" with newsstands operators as well as the local newspaper and periodical retail company, the legal proprietor of the facilities, before "moving and changing" the 72 street-side kiosks in Chaoyang district. And that "most" operators had "agreed in principle".

On the other hand, neither the operators, nor the owner of the demolished newsstands subscribe to the theory that there has been adequate consultation. Some operators say they saw their kiosks "forcefully demolished" merely hours after they had been verbally notified. The retail company said it had not received any written notice whatsoever.

Obviously one party in the dispute has been dishonest. But who?

The authorities in Beijing remain bold and assured and unapologetic. As if there is nothing wrong with what they have done.

The retail company says it is pacifying the angry operators, examining its losses, and preparing possible "legal action". The "forced demolition" has inflicted losses upon operators and put a dent in public funds.

It would be reasonable if the victimized parties eventually take their grievances to the court. That would be an educational jurisprudential scrutiny of the local government's claimed commitment to the rule of law and due procedure, which so many people have found lacking.

This country's long tradition of political centralization has cultivated big and strong governments that tend to place their own wills above the law. They are more comfortable with taking the law as a tool of governance rather than operating within the boundaries of the law. This incubates an inclination to ignore due procedure and resort to illegal means in law enforcement.

Days back, a young couple in Henan province was abducted at night from their home, which had been defined as being illicitly built and was in the way of a major construction project. When they struggled back the next morning, their home was in rubbles.

As in past cases, media exposure prompted acknowledgment that the demolition was not done according to proper procedure, and the customary promise of a probe.

In both cases, the governments got what they wanted. And little can be done against them.

But playing lawless bullies is detrimental to the governments themselves. Legitimacy problems will inevitably ensue if local governments continue to be allowed to trample on the law.

The Communist Party of China leadership's decision to make the rule of law the theme of its upcoming fourth plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the CPC is a wise one, because the neglect of the law has gone too far to be neglected.

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