Apologising to the public is a difficult task for most mainland officials but that's just what Guangzhou's top leaders have had to do, several times, to placate tens of thousands residents affected by the city's makeover in the lead-up to the 16th Asian Games in November. Former Guangzhou party secretary Zhu Xiaodan, mayor Zhang Guangning and Jian Wenhao , who as director of the city's construction committee is directly responsible for the billion-yuan projects, have, one after another, expressed their regrets for their impact on peoples' lives in the past year. 'Because the government had not done the organisation work well, residents' lives were affected ... city government should take responsibility for this and as the mayor, I should bear the main responsibility,' local media quoted Zhang as saying recently. Jian repeated the apologies later when entreating construction teams to behave themselves and avoid troubling residents too much. Guangzhou residents have long complained about the city's notorious traffic jams but unfortunately they have been made worse by the construction of new public transport projects for the Asian Games. The media have also been running stories about complaints that scaffolding for beautification projects meant to dress up apartment buildings along main streets has smashed flowerpots, attracted thieves and disrupted daily life since the middle of last year. No doubt foreign friends will be impressed by Guangzhou's splendidly modernised facade in November and city officials will gain face. However, residents complain that the city government seems to care more about foreigners' opinions than their own. They say there has been an unseemly rush to complete projects, with many only starting about a year ahead of the Games. For the government, though, the timing has been perfect. After all, if the buildings were painted any earlier they could lose their sheen by the time the Games came around. The public has also questioned the huge amount of money the government has been pumping into the plans. The public transport revamp has cost about a billion yuan and the decoration budget is as high as 10 billion yuan (HK$11.3 billion), one-seventh of the city's general budget revenue last year. Officials had promised that all construction for Asian Games projects would be under close supervision but that didn't stop the media exposing some glaring examples of waste, including one plan to pave 81 main streets with granite. A public outcry led the government to cancel that plan, saving more than 50 million yuan. The latest cause of public alarm has been a rise in diseases related to air pollution, with doctors saying construction dust is to blame. Local media revealed this week that the number of patients with respiratory diseases had increased by 30 per cent compared with last spring. Residents say that if the city government really cared about their feelings, officials would have found better ways to carry out the makeover plans and, at the very least, given construction teams some basic training on how to deal politely with residents. They say it could have also made sure it had more manpower for the construction and beautification projects. A labour shortage has meant that it has generally taken three months for workers to finish painting one mid-sized, 10-storey building, preventing residents from opening windows facing onto main streets for 90 consecutive days. Guangzhou is not the first mainland city to attempt to win temporary face from outsiders by sacrificing the trust of permanent residents and it won't be the last. Similar tales of woe surfaced in Beijing when the city was preparing the Olympic Games in 2008 and they're happening now in Shanghai, the host city for the World Expo that starts in May. But at least Guangzhou has given other cities a good example of how to handle public complaints: local and other state media have been allowed to describe the mess and top leaders have apologised for their faults. An article widely circulated online says Shanghai is probably 100 years behind Guangzhou in that regard, because you can't find any criticism or questioning of troublesome Expo construction projects in the Shanghai media.