Naked Government

| March 16th, 2010

From qianlong:

20100316-naked-gov-03 

Baimiao village government in Bazhong City, Sichuan Province publicized all of its expenses in detailed records in January of this year, including “spending 1.5 yuan buying stationary” and the cost of purchasing cigarettes and alcohol for accommodating and entertaining their superior officers. Thus the netizens called it “the first case of naked government”.

Just 3 days, this news attracted over 300,000 netizen’s attentions, it really shows how hopeful the Chinese people are for a “naked government”. Although a small number of the netizens questioned the truthfulness, the motives and the background of the “nakedness”, in any case the announced government spending is more precise and more transparent than any other governments in the past. This is the exactly why netizens called it “The first case of naked government.”

We should pay special attention to the first case of “naked government”, not only to give full recognition, but also to let it play out its full value. First, we should see that as long as there is courage, establishing “naked government” can be achieved, and its resistance is not as big as we thought, on the contrary, the support and praise it received have far exceeded our expectations. We should be more determined and to gather our courage to vigorously promote building a “transparent government”. At the same time, we should treat this case as dissecting a sparrow (analyzing a typical case), analyzing government business from the publicized spending; analyzing the problems in the government operations starting from the publicized government spending, and to find a ways to improve them. Thus we should use this to recommend the development of “transparent governments”.

For example, in the publicized government spending, we found 65% of the expenses are used on accommodating and entertaining (the superior officials) and they are costly, each table in each meal costs more than 400 yuan. Another example, we did not find a system to base the government spending on, almost all of them are arranged by the principal leaders. Another example, as a poverty-stricken rural village, the mayor’s monthly wage has reached 3,136 yuan, is this income suitable comparing with the average income of the villagers?

Publicizing the administrative affairs is a necessary requirement for scientific governance; however except for the spending transparency we did not see policy transparency or operation transparency. This in fact tells us that Baimiao village’s so-called “naked” does not have a regulated procedure, and there is no strict system, it really came from the leader’s political impulse. Though this political impulse is very valuable, but impulse does not last, it is random. What we need is the “naked government” to be institutionalized, standardized and habitual. Therefore Baimiao village’s so-called “naked” has its value,  but we should push its value across the country, more efforts and further exploring is needed.

Many netizens suggested to propose “the first case of naked government” across the country, we also hope the National People’s Congress would respond to netizen’s suggestions, do not let Baimiao town become the only “naked government”.

20100316-naked-gov-01 
Part of Publicized Baimiao Village Government Spending in January

***

According to izaobao:   Baimiao village government publicized spending is not being brave.

1. Because it is only a village government, there are not that many things to hide and to cover up, might as well show everyone their “naked body”, telling the public how pure they are.

2. The publicized government spending is still shocking, the expenses on accommodating and entertaining is 65% of the total spending. Even for this remote poor village, the cost for accommodating and entertaining officials has reached such high percentage, what about the other rich areas? I am scared to imagine.

However Baimiao village government’s action is no other than challenging the governments at all levels nationwide: I am not afraid to be naked, do you dare to?

12 Comments | Leave a comment | Comment feed

  1. Carl says:

    Wow. while the Chinese government as a whole is still very much corrupt, but as the article had said very well, this is has to go on, and on a greater scale. Plus, how much of this is really just for publicity, and how much of this is just a hey-we-had-a-not-so-corrupt-year-and-so-lets-publish-it kind of thing.

    Nevertheless, while it’s a small almost insignificant step, it is a step beyond what even most western “non-corrupted” government, which I tend to see exemplified by the US. Which we all know is far from non-corrupted, and “naked”. And that’s where I can see an area where big improvement could be.

    • bert says:

      This is a village, so chill out when comparing this to ‘western’ gov’ts. How is this a step beyond? You think all the ‘villages’ are so horribly corrupt in the ‘west’? They don’t report their expenses? If you think not then you are wrong.

      • Carl says:

        I was pretty clear in my comment there, if you would actually READ IT. “Nevertheless, while it’s a small almost insignificant step”

        I considered this an example to be followed to be all government, that is my point. perhaps more words isn’t always better, but that’s my point right there. So no, you’re generalizing my point.

  2. Richard says:

    乡 should really be translated as a rural township, it’s jurisdiction will have a dozen or so villages, at least 20,000 population. A 村 (village) is still a level below this and has a single official with very little to do. In the spreadsheet you can see there are quite a lot of different people spending the money, so it’s certainly not a village.

    • Jim says:

      Yes, and it wouldn’t be a big deal if it was a village committee that was making its finances public as that’s been going on for some time across most of the country. The xiang is considered the lowest rank of the central government hierarchy so this is an early instance of transparency within that..
      Read some article years ago that talked compared staffing levels in xiang or zhen administrations to the equivalent level in the ROK; there’d be several dozen people getting something from the payroll in China against just a handful in Korea. The levels of indebtedness were also uniformly high, often due to corrupt wining and dining: bit on that in this book; seems to reckon an average CNY4 million per township in 2000 (p169)

  3. perspectivehere says:

    Lawrence Lessig has written an interesting and counterintuitive essay on the perils of transparency in government in TNR, challenging conventional wisdom. http://www.tnr.com/article/books-and-arts/against-transparency

    There follows a series of rebuttals at http://www.tnr.com/article/tnr-debate-too-much-transparency-part-ii

    Tim Wu writes further on “Why more transparency actually makes politicians less likely to act in the public interest”. He writes:

    “Americans have an almost mystical faith that external controls on political power can produce good government. It is a faith in things like independent counsels, term limits, separation of powers, and Lawrence Lessig’s interest, transparency systems. It approaches faith because, even when these cures continue to fail, we merely ask how they can be improved, not whether the whole approach is wrong. That is why, in his essay, Lessig does not go far enough. Naked transparency isn’t the problem: It is our addiction to miracle cures that, since 1788, have done little for the patient.

    The faith I am talking about comes from a mindset that views politics as, essentially, a form of chemistry or engineering. Stir together judicial review, transparency, divided government, and out of it, supposedly, comes good government. When that fails to work, we add something new, maybe technological, hoping that the next ingredient will make all the difference. The real problem is that the drive for miracle cures can neglect and even counteract the political controls that actually do matter: internal controls, better known as civic virtue.”

    …..

    “What I mean is that many transparency systems simply create an incentive to create a good impression under the dictates of the system. Just as food manufacturers manage to produce fat-free and low-calorie food that isn’t necessarily healthy, politicians will produce information that suggests even-handedness even if there is none. Meanwhile, the chance of a transparency cure producing real change is close to zero. Does anyone really think that posting a schedule online will make a politician into a better leader?”

    • AlleyCat says:

      If indeed a system does not include any internal control mechanism that guards against fraud and errors due to omission, I would agree this only produces a kind of pseudo-transparency. If on the other hand such checks and balances are not also being guarded by external mechanisms such as a free press, allowing the suggested data to be thorougly scrutinized by a well-informed public, one may never be able to tell the difference between virtue or vice, fiction or facts.

      • perspectivehere says:

        That’s a good point. Unfortunately just as there is no such thing as a free lunch, there is no such thing as a “free press”. Someone pays for it and profits from it. When six mega corporations control most of the news and information media brands and channels in the “free world” (http://www.newint.org/issue333/Images/ni333-media.pdf), is the public interest really being served? Do we really get a well-informed public? Maybe what we need is more public-owned media?

        • AlleyCat says:

          Well, as a european, I personally do not believe that everything can and should be related to Rubert Murdoch & Associates on any otherform of lobbyism
          Call me naive, but I haven’t lost all of my trust in human kind, at least not on an individual level. I suppose there are still some relatively independent journalists, critical reporters and bold investigators out there who are not primarily motivated by self-intrest, or the hidden agenda’s of their employees. Besides, in todays reality there is a secondary force to be reckoned with: people like you and I may not be professional reporters by any means, but still to some extent we are quite capable to freely discuss any (mis)conception of random issues, wouldn’t you say? Anyway, I would not underestimate your own influence, nor that of your peers. Or let me put it this way: in my view a public-owned media has already been established, even though its unrestricted access may still be unsure in some areas of the world. You are part of it, if only by submitting your comments. So am I, even though I’m not getting payed by anybody. Are you?

          Let me spice up this argument by quoting William Richard Scott (an american sociologist), who describes a contingency theory in the following manner:
          “The best way to organize depends on the nature of the environment to which the organization must relate”. I would add that since the nature of our environment (whatever it may be) is rapidly changing, the relating organization does not really have a choice but to adapt. In my view a conservative policy in the ascendant will not be adequate to resolve the complexity of issues that any sustainable society will need to face. Therefore various elements like transparency of government, proper education and a reasonable free flow of information are all interdependent. They are of crucial importance in this process of adaptation. Finally I must admit, I am a democrat- regardless of the fact that it does not automatically lead to honest politicians, or better leaders. Nor does it immediately imply the opposite. It clearly has is own imperfections, but in some cases it is a process that has been tested and finetuned for ages. If this approach is basically wrong and should be replaced by another system, please let us know which. The only realistic option I could think of is the introduction of the concept of gross national happiness (GNH), such as has been implemented in Bhutan. Yet it would probably take an excellent, slihtly undemocratic leader for GNH to serve as a unifying vision for any country’s developement.

          • perspectivehere says:

            Thanks for the reference to William Richard Scott. I have not read his work before but what little I learned now from wikipedia and other sites is very enlightening. Contingency theory sounds a program to put into academic language a justification for adjusting your institutional structure to the circumstances in which you find yourself. Rather than a prescriptive one-size-fits-all approach to organizing an institution, the best result is adaptive to the environment….perhaps also taking into account more relevant factors than other more reductive models of what the environment is.

            In the realm of economic development, it seems to means that a particular economic strategy to arriving at an economy that is more favorable to its participants may involve more than following one prescribed template or formula (e.g., Rostow’s stages of growth), but is contingent upon the circumstances one finds oneself at each step of development.

            “Crossing the river by feeling the stones (摸着石头过河
            Mōzhe shítou guòhé) is a Chinese expression for undertaking a difficult task (crossing to the other side of the river on foot) while feeling for the stones underfoot. One cannot see the particular pathway at the outset, so no grand strategy or theory will help; you can set out in a direction, but successful completion of the goal will involve addressing the particular external and personal circumstances (stone, current, depth, strength, ability etc.) at that point in time. The best solution is contingent on the environment.

            This expression has been applied to China’s economic transition since the start of the reform period. See http://blog.chinesehour.com/?p=815 for a neat explanation. Chapter 5 of “Management in transitional economies: from the Berlin Wall to the Great Wall” By Malcolm Warner (see Google Books for excerpt) has a more extended and informative discussion.

            I may be completely misunderstanding and misapplying WRS and contingency theory, but it’s a first try at fitting his theory into my worldview. Please let me know if I am off-base.

            • AlleyCat says:

              I haven’t crossed this particular river that often myself, but for a first attempt I would say you’re right on, or pretty close at least. 摸着石头过河 make a lot of sense on an individual level, still I wonder if a concept of gradualism on a scale of transitional economies does not somehow fail to meet the global urgency of this moment in time. If we would like to save some of our integrity in the near future, perhaps the best thing to do is to strip naked right now. Or if the emperar has no clothes on, let him be exposed. After all, when misconduct and corruption are not somehow diminished, soon enough there might not be any river left to cross: their currents growing too strong, their stones becoming too loose, their crabs running out of control… Then I’d be really concerned that even the most able might not make it to the other side – if you catch my drift.

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