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New Stage of Competition Between Officialdom and People

Posted by on 2009/11/12. Filed under Opinions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

By Liang Jing
Nov 12, 2009 – 9:02:29 AM

On October 16, the Guangzhou municipal government, despite the resistance of other local governments, took the lead in the online publication of the budgets of 114 government departments. The decision was superficially in response to hundreds of letters appealing for disclosure of information, submitted to the central and provincial and municipal departments on October 8 by Li Detao, member of the Shenzhen organisation “Volunteer Observers of the Public Budget.” But as Li himself said, “This is not our first year, nor is it the first time we applied to the municipal government for public budgets.” Why then did Guangzhou make this important gesture at this time?

Some commented that this move in Guangzhou was related to the political pressure placed on Wang Yang by Bo Xilai’s campaign against gangs in Chongqing. This campaign had made Bo Xilai the centre of media attention for many days, and Wang Yang could no longer sit it out. This analysis has some truth, but there was a larger context for the incident.

It hasn’t been forgotten that it was the Guangdong authorities who a couple of years ago despicably and cruelly suppressed the Dongzhou villagers, and the activist Guo Feixiong is still detained in prison. Hu Jintao, afraid of China undergoing a “colour revolution,” supported the suppression by local power aristocracy and mafias of legitimate rights protection action. This decision greatly contributed to the arrogance of these sinister forces, so that they have less compunction about using state power to seize wealth and engage in rampant official corruption. But evil in society can never prevail, relations between state and society have rapidly deteriorated, and the serious imbalance in China’s economy is simply an expression of the extreme expansion of state power.

The facts prove that locking activists like Guo Feixiong behind bars cannot help Hu Jintao with the “hard task” of maintaining stability—on the contrary, group incidents have intensified. Any idiot can see that if “maintaining stability” is persisted with, the prospect of the people being driven to rebel on a large scale is not far off.

How is official power to be placed within bounds? Hu Jintao, hypocritical and incompetent, is at his wits’ end. Apart from increasing the intensity of empty talk, Hu’s sole concrete action has been arresting a few more corrupt officials. This however fails to restrict official power, not only because there are too many corrupt officials, but more seriously because it fails to restrict the collective plundering of the wealth of the state and society by corrupt bureaucrats, the scale of which has reached alarming proportions. Both President Hu Jintao and the people are quite aware of this. While many people do not know the size of China’s GDP, they do know that more than a trillion yuan is spent on “threefold publicly funded consumption”—banqueting, overseas trips and car travel.

Publishing government budgets was suggested long ago, and Hu Jintao is full empowered to require all levels of government to do so, but his choice is to continue to act dumb, because he dares not say no to bureaucratic mass looting, and is afraid bureaucracy will collectively tell him ’no’.

Rather than “major moves” by Hu, both the strike against gangs in Chongqing and the “airing of the books” in Guangzhou were restrictions of official power that the acute opposition between the officials and the populace forced local high-ranking officials to adopt despite themselves. Two of them, Bo Xilai and Wang Yang, knew that taking these risks would put pressure on other high-ranking local officials. Why then were the others afraid to take the lead in doing this? Mainly because of their political capital and political ambitions were not as great, and they dared not touch the collective interests of the local power elites.

As with Bo Xilai’s statement that he had been forced to attack the gangs, Wang Yang left room to maneuver in his budget publication. On 23 October, tens of thousands of Internet users rushed to download and browse, and the Guangzhou Municipal Bureau of Finance’s website was completely frozen. [1]

However, many were disappointed because they could not find direct evidence of the “threefold public consumption”. Some significant flaws were eventually found. According to a Southern Weekend network report, nine government agencies’ kindergartens had received up to 600 million yuan in financial subsidies annually. In one of these, a kindergarten for municipal authorities, each child cost the taxpayer 20 thousand yuan. This news immediately caused public outrage, and the Guangzhou government was temporarily put on the spot. [2] [3]. Shanghai had not been expecting Guangzhou to make such an improper decision, so when they received Lide Tao’s open letter calling for public budgets, the response was, “This level of departmental budgets for 2009 constitute ‘state secrets’ and cannot be released.”

On 19 October (three days after the budget announcement in Guangzhou), the Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Finance issued a “Circular on Guidance Opinions on Further Promoting Publication of District and County Budget Data.” Shanghai Party Secretary Yu Zhengsheng saw clearly that Wang Yang’s decision had changed the situation, and Shanghai could not but follow suit. [4] As a result, some netizens ridiculed the Shanghai government, urging them to be “very cautious,” to package the budget very well, unlike in Guangzhou, where people quickly discovered problems. [5] No matter how local governments in Shanghai and other regions package their budgets in future, they can never completely cover up the facts about the mass looting social wealth by the bureaucratic stratum. The game between officialdom and the populace in China has entered a new phase: the bureaucratic and power elite are turning to the defensive. One can imagine, bureaucrats will consolidate at every step, and not lightly sound a retreat.

The non-Communist Party Health Minister, Chen Zhu, pointed out not long ago that “the greatest challenge to medical reform is the lack of importance placed on it in some regions,” that is, local officials don’t get excited about medical reform, because the financial resources for public health care are now mainly for their own use. [6]

* Liang Jing, “Minguan boyi jinru xin jieduan” [Game between officialdom and people at a new stage], Xin shiji, 11 November 2009 [梁京: “官民博弈进入新阶段”, 新世纪,2009年11月 11日 http://www.ncn.org/view.php?id=76678&charset=GB2312

[1] “Wangmin zhengxiang liulan Guangzhou zhengfu bumen yusuan, Caizheng Ju liang zhan tan” [Internet users compete to browse Guangzhou departmental budgets, the Finance Bureau website paralysed], China Radio International, 25 October 2009 [: “网民争相浏览广州政府部门预算 财政局网站瘫痪”, 中广网,2009年10月 25日 http://www.cnr.cn/gundong/200910/t20091025_505529572.html

[2] “Jiguan youeryuan zuigao renqun butie 2 wan, Guangzhou shi zhengfu shai ‘zhangben’ shaichu xin wenti” [], Nanfang zhoumo, 11 November 2009 [综合: “机关幼儿园最高人均补贴2万 广州市政府晒“账本”晒出新问题”, 南方周末,2009年11月 11日 http://www.infzm.com/content/36515%29

[3] “Zhengfu shifou gongbu caizheng yusuan yinfa gongzhong zhiqing quan taolun” [Government publication of financial budget sparks debate on public’s right to know], sina.com, 11 November 2009 [ “政府是否公布财政预算引发公众知情权讨论”, 新浪,2009年11月 11日 ( here).].

[4] Xiong Jianfeng, “Shanghai qu xian jiang shidian gongkai bumen yusuan” [Shanghai districts and counties to pilot public ministerial budgets], Diyi caijing ribao, 30 October 2009 [熊剑锋: “上海区县将试点公开部门预算”, 第一财经日报,2009年10月 30日 ( here).].

[5] “Adopter of tiger kittens”, “Yusuan gongbu yao shen zhi you zhen—gei Shanghai ti ge xing” [ Be very careful publishing budgets – a warning for Shanghai], Bao ge laohu dang mao yang de Blog, 30 October 2009 [“抱个老虎当猫养”: “预算公布要慎之又慎——给上海提个醒”, 抱个老虎当猫养的BLOG ,2009年10月 30日 http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_3eb276b10100g69q.html

[6] “Weisheng buzhang Chen Zhu: yigai zuida tiaozhan shi yixie difang zhongshi bugou” [Health Minister Chen Zhu: greatest challenge to medical reform is lack of importance placed on it in some regions], Zhongguo jingji wang, 28 September 2009 [: “卫生部长陈竺:医改最大挑战是一些地方重视不够”, 中国经济网,2009年9月 28日 http://edu.ce.cn/topic/jywscjfbh/zbzy/200909/28/t20090928_20114021.shtml

translated by David Kelly
China Research Centre
University of Technology Sydney

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