Transparency on spending

Updated: 2010-12-30 07:50

(China Daily)

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The Department of Public Security in Heilongjiang province, Northeast China, turns out to be the only exception to the government offices that had their procurement lists leaked. It seems the luxuriously equipped and ridiculously pricey - over 41,000 yuan ($6,200) - laptop they ordered is indispensable for their work.

The traffic police authorities of Suzhou, Jiangsu province, East China, have "suspended" their plan to buy 21 iPhone 4s, which they said would be "ideal" new-generation terminals for police officers on the road. The Bureau of Finance of Fushun, Liaoning province in the Northeast has abandoned its decision to order 7 iPod Touch 4s, which they said would be used as USB flash disks, and opted instead for flash disks at less than half the cost.

And a district court in Urumqi in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region has "postponed" its planned purchase of two massage chairs on its procurement list, even though it said the chairs were much less expensive than rumored, the purchase decision was made with due procedure and the cost would be covered by their staff's own welfare subsidies.

If there is anything worth celebrating, it is the fact that all four responded. The replies, however, are hardly sufficient to clear away the clouds of distrust.

The Fushun Bureau of Finance was the only one of the four institutions to confess that a mistake had been made, but it immediately attributed it to an office clerk's incompetence, as if everything else was perfectly normal and above reproach. In the three other cases, the common problem appears to be misunderstanding on the part of the public.

There is the likelihood that the man on the street, owing to ignorance, does not understand the needs of government offices and so may easily wrong them on the basis of superficial knowledge.

The easy fermentation of negative information about public offices and their employees, on the Internet in particular, reflects the embarrassing truth about the uneasy relationship between government offices and the public.

When something happens and people talk about it, most tend to believe the negative portrayals of public powers. This is not always fair.

But neither is it fair to blame the whole thing on the public. They lack access to what is happening in public offices and there have been too many corruption scandals.

In 2009, the value of government procurement reached 360 billion yuan ($54 billion). Given the lack of oversight and transparency, ordinary citizens have ample reasons to be concerned about the way public money is being spent.

The Communist Party of China has just unveiled its anti-corruption program for 2011. And a corresponding white paper was published on Wednesday.

But a lot more needs to be done to further the fight against corruption. Without efforts to improve transparency, it's hard to expect any major headway in the foreseeable future.

The heat of public anger will subside, and some of the items in question might be bought sooner or later, but the damage to the image of public offices is likely to be long lasting and difficult to repair.


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