July 3, 2009
Last week, a People’s Daily editorial asserted that “Information transparency is of benefit to increasing public trust in the government.” How right this is, but unfortunately this is not being sufficiently heeded in China. This applies both to decision-making and the communication and explanation of decisions. Two recent examples:
A joint circular was issued on 27 May (but not posted until 4 June) by nine ministries and government agencies: the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the legislative office of the State Council, the ministries of industry and information, housing, railways, water resources, supervision, transport, and commerce ministries.
This notice states:
“Government investment projects should purchase domestic products, unless these domestic goods, construction engineering or services are not available in China or cannot be acquired on reasonable commercial terms. Projects requiring imported products will need prior approval from relevant government authorities.”
The document went unnoticed until it was mentioned in a 16 June article in the China Daily. Foreign media quickly ran alarming reports that China was rolling out a new policy designed to exclude foreign investors from economic stimulus projects. By the end of the month, Chinese officials were arguing that the circular was the subject of serious misinterpretation – their actual intention was to level the playing field for foreign and Chinese companies alike, especially in sectors like equipment manufacturing, where bidding practices had historically discriminated.
The new regulation gives rise to a number of questions, eg:
· To what extent does it change the Government Procurement Law of 2002?
· Why was a new measure necessary?
· Are state-owned enterprises (SOEs) bound?
· Do domestically made goods include products of China-based operations of foreign companies?
China has postponed a plan to require personal computer makers to supply Internet-filtering software, hours before it was due to take effect. The measure gave rise to protests by foreign companies (and countries) and Web surfers.
Manufacturers would have been required to include “Green Dam” filtering software with every computer produced for sale in China.
Protests ranged from the measure being a censorship tool, protectionist, and a security risk.
Chinese authorities said that the software was needed to shield children from violent and obscene material online. But it apparently also contains code to filter out material the government considers politically objectionable.
Lack of transparency, hurried implementation and lack of explanation arouse suspicion.
In neither case was the principle advocated by the People’s Daily followed. Suspicion and worry was increased because:
· the decision-making process was secretive
· short notice was given, and
· there was no clear communication or explanation.
Inevitably, these contributed to the unfavourable climate which resulted.Author : Stanley Crossick