Govts go online to make spending transparent

Updated: 2011-09-14 07:34

By Wang Huazhong (China Daily)

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NANJING/HANGZHOU - Public spending in 2,187 villages in Shaoxing city, East China's Zhejiang province, now not only requires the approval of higher authorities and invoices for auditing purposes, but also the submission of documents online.

All original bills, trade contracts and any items related to rural collective resources - namely collectively owned funds, assets and resources in rural areas - must be published online, according to the city's new policies.

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The move is designed to facilitate auditing and verification by watchdogs and, more importantly, to make the details of spending more open to public scrutiny.

Even if villagers do not have a computer, they can access up-to-date information about the rural collective's resources on 536 touch screens set up in their villages.

"We guarantee the residents' rights to know, to participate and to supervise through the disclosure of information," said Shi Guangeng, a worker with the rural collectives resources management office of Lanting township in Shaoxing.

"The system could expose embezzlement and waste, prompting village officials to fulfill their responsibilities with integrity.

"Otherwise, lax management of the considerable resources in those villages will result in economic losses and aggravate people's grievances, which will further affect stability."

As well as making public all spending on small office necessities, procurement in major projects such as costly construction services is also included as part of many local governments' efforts to fight corruption by using new technology to increase transparency.

Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces have attempted to utilize e-governance technologies to standardize and regulate the use of administrative powers.

In Jiangsu's provincial capital of Nanjing, every construction project that involves public funds of more than 1 million yuan ($156,000) must invite public bidding through an electronic trading system.

In the past two years, the system has ensured fair bidding processes in 1,730 construction projects worth 48 billion yuan, according to official figures.

A more aggressive measure has been carried out in the province's Kunshan city, which local authorities have called an implementation of the concept of "machine oversees human".

An electronic monitoring and performance assessment platform was set up there in 2008.

It comprises 13 sub-platforms that oversee government agencies' functions, including fees collection, approval of applications, fines ticketing and receiving of petitioners.

Cao Ping, chief of the discipline inspection commission in Kunshan, said the system reads data of the agencies' operations in real time. If any irregular practice happens or a resident's matter has not been processed on time, the system will automatically send warnings to inspectors.

She stressed the new technology-enabled system can prevent corruption in a more targeted and efficient way than the conventional method.

However, both Cao and Long Xiang, her counterpart in Nanjing, said the discipline authorities cannot rely solely on machines to completely eradicate corruption, since "corrupt officials are now much more cunning than their predecessors and most of their malpractices occur out of work time".

"The platforms aim to discover problems at an early stage and increase the chances of corrupt officials being caught," said Long.