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Shanghai to open gov't archives to public
By Cao Li (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-08-23 09:36

Ten of the Shanghai's municipal government departments have joined forces to guarantee freedom of information for the city's millions of residents.

The 10 departments have set up a permanent joint conference, to be chaired by Vice-Mayor Feng Guoqin, to ensure wider access to official information and archives, some of which were previously considered State secrets.

The decision to afford wider access to official documents comes as a landmark legal case is taking place over freedom of information.

It is the first ever time an ordinary resident has accused government agencies of refusing the plaintiff access to information that had been claimed to be open to the public.

The municipal government unveiled the freedom of infor-mation rules earlier this year, which stipulates that local government departments should open their files, unless the information is confidential.

The 10 members of the team include the Shanghai Development and Reform Commission, Shanghai Municipal Financial Administration and the Informatization Office of the Shanghai Municipal People's Government.

A standing committee was recently established too to answer inquiries from all government departments.

An experts committee is also being formed to give advice to it.

Last week, Xuhui District Court held the first hearing for the first resident to sue a governmental department for refusing to allow access to information.

The 70-year-old woman plaintiff, Dong Ming, sued Xuhui District Housing and Land Administrative Bureau for rejecting her request to obtain access to archives related to her former home.

Dong's lawyer, He Guoping, said that Dong's father had bought the house in downtown Shanghai's Yueyang Lu, Xuhui District, in 1947. But the family were forced to leave in 1968 during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), losing most of the documents and certificates related to the house.

The bureau based its decision upon a regulation that took effect in 1998, stipulating that only the owner of the villa can read the original documents of the property and there were no registered documents showing Dong owned the house.

"The court is expected to hold the second hearing in the next couple of weeks. If we lose it, I will appeal to a higher court," said He, Dong's lawyer.

"We will classify government information and archives to make clear what items can be opened and on what conditions a resident can apply for information," said Li Jingzhong, deputy director of Shanghai Xuhui Informatization Commission.

The classification is expected to help avoid misunderstanding and confusion in the future, Li said.

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