Wen Jiabao

Cabinet demands more open official response to crises

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 August, 2011, 12:00am


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The State Council has ordered more transparent official handling of emergencies, as the government reels from the blows to its credibility inflicted by last month's deadly high-speed-train crash.

In a circular issued on Tuesday, the cabinet said investigation results and other issues of widespread interest should be publicly disclosed in an objective and timely manner.

'Public concerns should be addressed to appropriately guide public opinion,' the State Council said.

The orders come as the government confronts mounting criticism of handling of the train crash in Wenzhou on July 23, which killed 40 people.

The media and the public have denounced officials for failing to respond to concerns ranging from the cause of the crash to a review of the national high-speed rail programme.

But analysts aren't convinced that the orders will do much to ease public frustration or significantly change the way rail officials handle the crash investigation.

Qian Gang, from the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong, said 'individual departments may have different interpretations of the documents'.

'The propaganda departments may still curb media criticism and say they have to objectively guide public opinion,' Qian said. 'At the end of the day, officials may still say, 'We cannot disclose the information to you because it is secret'.'

The transparency order echoes pledges Premier Wen Jiabao made at the crash site a week ago. Wen said the investigation would be open, transparent, under public supervision and 'stand the test of history'. The next day, propaganda authorities told mainland media to severely limit reporting of the crash.

The State Council document also said supervision of the government by the media, lawmakers and the country's eight 'democratic parties' should be bolstered.

'This shows that the State Council and the top leaders want disclosure, but individual departments are concerned more with their own interests,' Beijing Institute of Technology Professor Hu Xingdou said. 'Merely issuing an order won't ease public frustration. The Ministry of Railways might not submit to the order. They fear that if they disclose more, the central government will discover more of their wrongdoings.'

The State Council also ordered government expenditure and information on key construction projects be published in full unless state or commercial secrets are involved.

Hu and Qian agreed the orders were positive and showed the government's determination to be open, but Hu said the public should have more freedom to monitor the authorities.