A small victory for public's right to share information

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 May, 2011, 12:00am

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Dismayed by the Beijing municipal government's introduction of a car plate lottery in December, to tackle traffic woes, 25-year-old law firm assistant Ye Xiaojing requested information from three municipal government agencies about government-owned cars so the public could track pledges to curb their use.

Can you tell me briefly what you've done to get the information?

In December I wrote to the Public Security Bureau, the Finance Bureau and the Municipal Transport Commission, asking for disclosure of the number of vehicles government agencies owned and a list of their models. The Public Security Bureau and the transport commission said they could not disclose the information and suggested I go to the Finance Bureau. The Finance Bureau said the information would be included in the municipal government budgetary report to be made public in March, but this did not list the models of government-owned cars. How do you feel about the outcome? I think I'm more happy than disappointed because it represents a step forward, given the fact many others did not get any response when they asked for the disclosure of information.

Do you think the number they made public is a true reflection of the number of vehicles the municipal government owns?

It only said that the municipal agencies, which are wholly publicly funded, owned a total of 62,026 vehicles. I was actually dismayed by this because the public has no way of knowing if the number is credible. I think the government would have been better off providing a breakdown of the vehicles owned by individual government agencies and what models they are.

Why did you decide to do what you've done in the first place?

When the municipal government announced the car plate lottery system in December, I wondered what the government would do to help address the traffic problem. It said it would freeze the number of public-funded cars, but not how they would impose such a freeze. Did it have a cap? Did that mean the number of vehicles owned by the government was already too high? I believed the information would help answer those questions.

Did you lodge the applications for government information disclosure as a law firm assistant?

No. I didn't do it on behalf of the law firm or as a law assistant. It would be wrong to interpret what I've done as a show of activism or a public stunt. I consulted my supervisory lawyer before I went ahead with the applications. Do you now have a better understanding of the need for a government information disclosure provision? As a matter of fact, the provision has much more to do with how we go about our lives. From the government's perspective, it is funded by taxpayers' money and part of its responsibility is to disclose certain information. And the disclosure of information in a timely manner is an indication of the level of service it provides.

Did you experience any frustration or encounter any obstacles in seeking the information?

After I lodged the applications with the government agencies, I asked myself what evidence I had to demonstrate what I'd done with the applications and how I could follow up on their progress. I sent the application to the Finance Bureau through their online application system, but they didn't have a verification system or send me a confirmation alert. When I called one of the agencies, the official who answered the phone had no idea what the procedures were. On top of that, they also required applicants to have a legitimate reason, not something that is called for under the information disclosure provision. My impression is that they are not genuine about information disclosure.

What else do you think people can do if they fail to get government information they think they should have?

We can press them via an administrative review and then an administrative case against the government agencies involved.

What will you do next?

I feel I have accomplished something with what I've done. But I will certainly keep a close watch on how the government regulates its large fleet of vehicles because it's a matter of great interest to taxpayers.

 

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