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Suppressing information fuels speculation
By Yan Xizao (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-06-13 09:14

At its latest session, concluded on Wednesday, the Standing Committee of the Heilongjiang People's Political Consultative Conference passed a resolution to dump chairperson Han Guizhi.

A Xinhua News Agency report, issued online Wednesday night, revealed the provincial authorities had earlier decided to remove Han.

The firing of an official of Han's stature, which is by and large equivalent to a vice-minister, is not in any sense insignificant.But the two-sentence Xinhua report had no mention of the crucial "why."

It does not make news in this country when the appointment or removal of Party and government officials is announced without giving a reason.

It hardly matters if they are irrelevant to the common folk.

The appointment of a new deputy president for Xinhua News Agency itself and removal of another, as well as appointment of a new head for the State Bureau of Nuclear Safety and removal of the previous head of the Supervisory Committee for Key Large State Enterprises, were all made public Wednesday via Xinhua.

Few of the common folk bother to inquire who the new people are, or why they were appointed or dismissed.

But Han's dismissal is guaranteed immense public scrutiny. Everywhere people are asking and speculating about the mysterious "why."

The head of a local political advisory body seldom attracts public interest beyond his or her locality. Han Guizhi did not become a public figure in a national context until a scandal involving rumours that the woman BMW driver who killed one person and injured 12 in Harbin, Heilongjiang after a dispute with the victims was her daughter-in-law.

At the height of a nationwide uproar against lawless officials, the allegedly lenient sentence a local court pronounced ignited widespread suspicion about the driver's possible links to local officials.

Both Han and local public security departments denied she had any association with the suspect.

Still, the tumult did not subside until after a review of the case ordered by Beijing, which claimed to have found no inappropriateness.

For many who had followed the so-called "BMW case" in Harbin, the first reaction to Han's removal might be wondering whether the two incidents were related.

Sadly there was not a single word about it from official sources.

Xinhua was evidently not authorized to explain. But interestingly, the agency's website posted a story by New Express, a newspaper based in Guangdong Province, which provided some clues.

Han's removal has nothing to do with the gossip about her relationship with the "BMW case," the paper said. Instead, she was dismissed due to involvement in "a major corruption scandal."

Considering Xinhua's long-time image as the most reliable source of government-related information, Xinhua Net's transmission of the New Express report lent credibility to the latter's discovery.

But official sources in Heilongjiang declined to comment on the report or offer any further information until this story was finished.

This embarrassing case underlines once again the worrisome downside of information disclosure.

There is no harm in telling the truth about Han's removal. Withholding it, however, has led to unnecessary speculation.

Our officials are sometimes too accustomed to silence before "the water subsides and the rocks emerge."

But it would invariably prove rewarding to reveal the truth as early as possible, and as much as possible, in cases like Han's.

It is not only a matter of the public's right to know. It has to do with the credibility and image of the State organs.

If there is nothing to be shy of, why should they be reluctant to speak out?

That is exactly what the common folks are inclined to ask.

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