Loose-tongued officials no match for a more aggressive media

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 December, 2009, 12:00am

Are you going to speak for the party or the masses?' That is what a senior urban planning official in Zhengzhou, Henan province , blurted out on June 17 - something he may regret for the rest of his life and may spell the end of his government career.

He gave the infamous quote when pressed by a reporter on why a Henan developer could breach regulations to build luxury town houses for government officials on a piece of land earmarked for affordable housing for the poor.

The quote triggered a nationwide outcry in internet chat rooms and even the state media, proving to be an acute embarrassment for the Communist Party leadership, which prides itself on the claim that officials are servants of the masses.

Until recent years, the faceless bureaucrats manning the vast government machine had seldom suffered the public humiliation Western politicians receive after making gaffes to the media or in public.

After all, the party, or more precisely the party's omnipresent propaganda department, controls a news media whose mission is to propagate the party's policies without questions or reservations.

Usually, officials did not have to worry about what they might say off the cuff, as reporters were expected to write up the press releases only.

But as the leadership has tried to push for more government transparency and the state media has got more aggressive, many officials have proved to be ill prepared and let slip infamous quotes, showing their arrogance and how out of touch they are.

Since last year, the state media has compiled an annual top 10 of officials' most infamous quotes in the media.

Xinhua just released this year's list, with the Henan urban planning official taking the top honour.

Sometimes, those quotes cause a stink.

On October 27, an official from a government-controlled toll road operator in Guangzhou got flustered at a press conference when questioned on whether the company's decision to shut down part of a main road for repairs and cause massive congestion should have been made after consulting the people living along the road.

'Does that mean I need to inform you every time I s*** about whether it stinks or not?' the official, surnamed Liang, retorted.

After his remarks were published and picked up online, they caused an uproar, which forced the Guangzhou party secretary to publicly reprimand the official. He also ordered him to apologise before sacking him.

Apparently, an environmental official from Dongxiang county in Jiangxi did not read the news about Guangzhou.

Meeting reporters on November 17, he thought he had managed a clever defence of a local electrical appliances company that had polluted the land of a township since 2007, by saying: 'The pollution is just a little like taking a s*** on the vast grasslands. Does it constitute pollution?' One can imagine the reaction and consequences awaiting this official.

Earlier this month, Shi Guozhong, a township party secretary from Chengde in Hebei , became the target of national wrath when the state media quoted him as telling a 66-year-old farmer to drop dead.

When the farmer buttonholed him over a dispute concerning housing relocation and threatened to commit suicide by jumping to his death if Shi did not intervene, Shi reportedly replied: 'Don't go to the first or second floor. If you want to do it, go up to the fifth floor.'

The official was subsequently sacked.

Wang Aimin, mayor of Liangfang in Hebei, a city bordering Beijing, achieved infamy by committing the ultimate political sin - telling the truth.

In March, he held a press conference to announce the city's new slogans to attract investment: 'Real estate is good investment. When developers come to invest, they can keep all the profits they make. If they lose, we will bear the losses.'

That simply confirms the worst fears of ordinary mainlanders, who have long suspected the rampant collusion between officials and developers to jack up property prices.