Half of state websites miss mark

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2010, 12:00am

More than half the mainland's local government websites 'don't make the grade', a top mainland think tank study has found.

An investigation by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences says the public has to go through a 'labyrinth' to access government information, and calls most websites opaque and difficult to navigate, China News Service reported yesterday.

It also criticised local governments for unnecessarily requiring people to register their personal details before allowing them to access information and, in some cases, for making those details public.

There are about 45,000 websites for mainland government agencies, mostly set up in response to a drive for improved transparency, launched by the central government in May 2008.

However, the academy study - launched to check how lower-tier administrations were adapting to the new system of 'open government' - shows just how much work remains to be done.

But it also found that local governments were not wholly to blame, as a main cause of the problems was the lack of clear guidelines on what information should be made public and how to do so.

The researchers looked at the official websites of agencies under 43 provincial and city-level governments between November 9 and December 15 last year, to analyse and evaluate their level of transparency and ease of use.

They were judged on whether the websites functioned properly, how extensive the information contained was, how clearly sources of information were signposted, whether requests for information were successful, how clear annual reports were and whether information on demolitions and land requisitions were made public.

Researchers found that in many cases information was not presented cohesively. Many sites had sections marked both 'open government' and 'open government information', but these often overlapped or contradicted each other.

Some were so poorly designed that with two groups of people searching for the same piece of information simultaneously, some would find it and others failed; sometimes researchers found what they were looking for on one occasion but were unable to locate it later.

The report also strongly criticised government organisations for demanding excessively detailed personal information before processing a request for information, which it said could be intimidating to the public.