Shadow cast on sunshine rule
Since it came into force on May 1, 2008, the regulation on government information disclosure has laid an institutional foundation for promoting government transparency, but various problems have also been exposed during its implementation, fueling calls for it to be revised.
A draft amendment to the regulation was released on Tuesday for public opinions. Compared with the existing regulation, the draft amendment sets the principle that "government information disclosure is a normal state and non-disclosure only comes at an exceptional time". It also states that "government information should be made public, except when specially stipulated that it should not be by laws and administrative regulations".
Such wording marks a positive step toward expanding the scope of government information disclosure. The establishment of a "negative list" will further squeeze the space for government bodies hoping to avoid information disclosure.
However, the draft amendment also leaves space for government departments not to make public relevant information. Like the existing regulation, the draft amendment stipulates that after confirmation by same-level local governments, information that might damage public security and social stability if made public is not subject to compulsory disclosure.
Such ambiguous wording and the lack of concrete criteria may become a "reasonable excuse" for some local governments to refuse to fulfill their information disclosure obligations. In this sense, detailed and explicit stipulations are necessary to eradicate any possible ambiguity.
The draft amendment also stipulates that information related to administrative organs' internal affairs or decision-making is not subject to disclosure given that their disclosure may affect just decision-making or normal administrative behaviors. This has also caused controversy.
Any revision of an established regulation should keep a responsive ear to public concerns. An open and transparent decision-making process should be the aim, and the lack of such a process under whatever pretexts will undermine the credibility of any government decisions.