The central government should allow residents more say in the long-term reconstruction of earthquake-hit areas and give priority to the quality of the rebuilding process rather than its speed, international experts said yesterday. A group of UN, US, Japanese and European experts said Beijing should learn from major disasters across the world in order to avoid making similar mistakes in its reconstruction in Sichuan and neighbouring provinces. The highly centralised, top-down approach appeared to have been effective in the wake of the earthquake in the short term, but it might not be a good option in the long term, they said. The remarks were made at a forum at Tsinghua University organised by the China Planning Network, a group sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). 'The government should resist the temptation to do everything and think they know all the answers,' said Robert Olshansky of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. 'They should listen to what people are saying and try to bring as many voices into the rebuilding process.' Professor Olshansky, who was involved in the post-Katrina planning process in New Orleans in 2005, said the central government must take a core leadership role in the process, become 'a central point of information' and provide assistance to businesses and organisations. He said the experiences in post-disaster efforts in earthquake-prone Japan and Aceh in Indonesia in the wake of the 2004 tsunami showed that public participation had greatly helped facilitate recovery and reduce social tensions. Lawrence Vale, head of MIT's department of urban studies and planning, said whether citizens could obtain a bigger role in the reconstruction process would largely depend on the readiness of individual groups. 'One very big benefit of these kinds of disaster relief processes could be to strengthen those institutions which had not been strong before,' said Professor Vale, who was also involved in the post-Katrina planning process. 'My overall impression of the Chinese government's response in Sichuan and elsewhere is quite positive, but whether that is largely due to the management of information or to the quality of the work is less clear.' He and other experts voiced concerns that recovery efforts would vary. 'Some people in remote areas will not receive as much attention as those in the higher visibility, larger settlements,' Professor Vale said. Experts also talked about public expectations towards what the rebuilding process can realistically achieve. 'We shouldn't expect all of the problems of a society that couldn't be solved before the disaster to be suddenly solvable when disasters have struck,' Professor Vale said. Forum participants will travel to Dujiangyan today to meet Sichuan officials.