Eighty-six out of 113 mainland cities asked by a non-governmental organisation to disclose information about their polluters refused, saying such exposure would hurt local business. Wang Jingjing, administrative director of the mainland's Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said yesterday that its staff had made phone calls and sent faxes and e-mails to environmental authorities in 113 cities. They asked for a list of businesses that were punished by the government last year because they had violated environmental regulations. Only 27 of them provided any information, Ms Wang said. Of those that refused, 'more than a dozen environmental protection bureaus don't even have a website, phone number or e-mail address. We tried every means of communication but could not find them,' she said. The rest gave a number of reasons for not disclosing the information. 'One official said, 'Don't you understand the current situation? It is not the right time to pick on polluters'. I am not sure if he was referring to the global financial crisis, but it must have something to do with the local economy. Some answers were just hilarious. An official said that they could not give us the name list without the approval of the polluters - it's their business secret, and public exposure might hurt their business.' The institute released a report revealing the findings of an investigation into pollution information transparency across the mainland. The transparency level, measured by a Pollution Information Transparency Index, split the information accessibility into eight categories. These included how well the public had been informed about big polluters in a city, whether and how they were punished, whether and how the government had responded to residents' environmental complaints, and the transparency of environmental protection funds. The average national rating was just over 30 on a 100-point scale. Only four cities - Ningbo in Zhejiang , Hefei in Anhui , Fuzhou in Fujian and Wuhan in Hubei - scored above 60. More than 30 cities - among the worst being Karamay in Xinjiang , Xining in Qinghai , Zhanjiang in Guangdong, Jilin city in Jilin province , and Benxi in Liaoning - scored below 20. The performance of the mainland's four 'economic pillars' was disappointing, the report said. While Shanghai and Shenzhen scored just above 50, Beijing and Guangzhou scored poorly. The transparency scores decline from the economically more developed east to the west, but researchers found some noticeable exceptions, as some landlocked cities, including Wuhan, Chongqing and Taiyuan , scored 'remarkably well' while Zhanjiang and Benxi, located in more developed areas, remained 'almost opaque'. The institute confirmed that cities with heavy industry were the most reluctant to disclose information, as were those that had kept poor records of air quality. Last year, the central government released a regulation covering government information disclosure on environmental affairs, hoping that with greater transparency, the mainland could do better in environmental protection. 'The result is actually better than we anticipated,' Ms Wang said. 'Because we launched the investigation soon after the regulation's release, many cities were not prepared. Some simply told us that there was not a department to deal with information disclosure.' She said the report showed there was enormous room for improvement.