@@@@
@@@@ 1@2004.5.15s By Stephen M. Harner
May 5, 2004
@@@ Shanghaifs New gOpenh Government: www.shanghai.gov.cn @@o>>

 

Shanghaifs New gOpenh Government:  www.shanghai.gov.cn

 

Has Shanghai entered a new era of gopenh government?  The image of gopenh government is certainly what Shanghaifs leadership has been striving to convey to its citizens since the middle of 2003.   And why, it may be asked, this new desire to appear transparent?  Could it be that government officials—and, particularly, the Communist Party, of which they are all members—is worried that Shanghai citizens have grown restive and disgruntled with what they correctly perceive as the perverse effects of past government secrecy and corruption on the quality of life in Shanghai?

 

Media gEventh in January:  The Two Meetings

 

Since mid-2003 efforts to portray a new gopennessh and gtransparencyh in government matters have been increasing.  The gnew opennessh of government was a theme of the gtwo meetingsh (l协Cs\͈员񎟉议CC实\͐l\񎟉议) in JanuaryBMore than was ever the case before, the plenary sessions and small group discussions that occurred during these meetings were reported in detail in the local newspapers, on radio, and on television.  TV coverage was so extensive and celebratory, the only way to describe it was a gmedia event.h   The effort was clearly made to show that the gpeoplefs representativesh were earnestly expressing opinions which reflected the real concerns of Shanghai citizens.  A recurring topic—clearly one on which the government was willing to allow attention to be focused—was lower cost housing.   Delegates expressed a desire for more such housing and government officials offered assurance that more was on the way.

 

At the close of the Two Meetings, the Shanghai public was informed of the number of grecommendationsh provided to the government by the delegates.  It was promised—and a new tracking system established to ensure--that each of these recommendations would receive a written response.  Thus, government gresponsivenessh was added to gopennessh as a theme. 

 

gRegulations on Opening Government  Information of Shanghai Municipalityh iCs{M开规j

 

A remarkable and important step in the process of opening government was the promulgation on January 20, 2004 of the gRegulations on Opening Government  Information of Shanghai Municipalityh iCs{M开规jB This regulation, adopted by the Peoplefs Congress, provided for the first time clear and public guidelines for the kind of information that the government could and should provide to the citizens. 

 

TheCs{M开规were put into effect on May 1, 2004.  The main channel for providing information to the public is the website www.shanghai.gov.cn.    This website and its links provide a wealth of information.   

 

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gOpennessh Follows a Scandalous 2003

 

Returning to the question posed above, what might be the reason for Shanghaifs new openness? 

 

Certainly the answer must be that Shanghai city officials—and their predecessors like ]泽CeC吴MC镕--who hold powerful positions and continue to influence policy in Shanghai from Beijing—have felt the need to take measures to ameliorate a worsening situation before it becomes a crisis situation.  What is the situation?  It is a loss of confidence and support of the people toward the Shanghai government because of the peoplefs correct perception of massive and widespread corruption, and the deleterious effects of this corruption on daily life in Shanghai.

 

The Zhou Zhengyi scandal last year was only one manifestation of the depth and breadth of corruption in Shanghai's government and the pernicious relationship between government officials and real estate developers.  These days, both local residents and foreigners are equally appalled and annoyed by the extreme degree of corruption-driven over-development of residential flats everywhere, but particularly within the inner ring road.  Grossly out-of-place, over-sized luxury flat developments--gifts to such well connected sponsors as the Tomson Group--have now almost ruined the potential aura of the Lujiazui "financial district," not to mention of potential aesthetic appeal of the Huangpu riverside. 

 

Meanwhile, the city has done almost nothing to widen secondary roads in anticipation of the glut of traffic that will surely flow from high density development.  Some residents excuse this as owing to a lack of money.  However, the city forwent a huge amount of tax revenue during the period 1999 to 2003 when it allowed flat buyers to off-set any amount up to their entire personal income tax liability with any money spent to buy residential real estate.  This was, in effect, a massive transfer of city tax revenues to the developers, with pernicious effects of which on the daily life of Shanghai residents will be felt for many years, or, in some cases, permanently.   All of this and more was done with virtually no transparency or accountability of the officials at the district or city-wide levels.     

 

Corruption Has Left a Legacy of Discontent and Troubled Citizens

 

After the Zhou Zhengyi scandal broke in May-June 2003 and an investigation team arrived from Beijing to discover that over 80% of local government (usually district level) approvals for property development had been issued in secret in violation of regulations (essentially the approvals had been given gunder the tableh for bribes), and that violations of building height and density regulations were widespread (also allowed because of corruption), the Shanghai government and the Shanghai Communist Party committee held a series of internal meetings and self-analysis gstudyh sessions.  The purpose of these meetings was to warn all cadres and officials that future violations of regulations and obvious corruption would be punished. 

 

Of course, such meetings and warnings had been issued many times in the past, with little or no effect.  In the course of gstudyh sessions it must have become clear to everyone that corruption and self-interest seeking by officials would never stop unless the secrecy and non-transparency of the decision making were changed.   Thus new regulations were issued to require land development to be subject to public auction and that results be made public.  Apparently, this idea developed a certain momentum, and it was realized that more general transparency and openness of government was necessary to effectively reduce or eliminate corruption and to improve the fairness and honesty of government. 

 

The result was the  gRegulations on Opening Government  Information of Shanghai Municipalityh iCs{M开规j.  How effective the new regulations will be in improving government in Shanghai remains to be seen.  One thing is certain, the previous lack of transparency and the corrupt relationship between property developers and officials created discontent and suspicion among many Shanghai citizens that will not be easily removed. 

 

May 5, 2004