Dongcheng District, Beijing

Official New Year message comes at a price

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 February, 2010, 12:00am

It's one thing to receive a phone message from your government, it's quite another to be charged for the privilege.

Yet that is what officials in Jiangxi province decided to do to get closer to the people, millions of whom received a three-minute, pre-recorded message under a government deal with phone giant China Telecom - for which taxpayers were charged 10 fen (11 HK cents) each.

Several million voice messages, pre-recorded by district, county and city Communist Party and government chiefs, were sent to phone users across the province. They began with a quick recap of the local government's achievements in the past year, continued with its plans for the coming year, sought the recipient's support and ended with wishes for 'good health and success in work'.

It is common for officials to deliver such messages via television, newspapers or phone messages.

China News Service, which first reported the initiative on Tuesday, quoted a Nanchang resident as saying that 'a sudden warmth gushed through his heart' when he heard the recorded greetings from his district chief and party secretary.

It also quoted Dongcheng district chief Guo Yi as saying that sending greetings by phone meant 'spending a little, but touching the hearts of many'. A call only cost one mao (10 fen), he said.

However, many soon began to ponder whether the phone messages were such a good deal.

The Beijing News ran an editorial questioning the merit of paying up to a million yuan of taxpayers' money to China Telecom to send voice messages in just another propaganda drive, rather than distributing the money to the needy.

'The phone greetings from the Jiangxi officials disturb the people too much, and should not be replicated elsewhere,' said one internet user on the People's Daily online forum. 'Society should encourage officials to do more concrete things, instead of focusing on matters of form.'

Beijing-based political commentator Hu Xingdou said: 'Such phone calls are just for show; another chance for officials to show how nice they are to the people. They have little to do with increasing transparency of the government.'

A woman who works at a fast-food restaurant in downtown Nanchang said she had not received a phone call from her district chief, but thought the initiative rather meaningless.

'If they add a function at the end of the message, allowing the recipient to leave a message, that would be different,' she said.