Chinese councils experiment with democracy

作者:Stephen McDonell 发表时间:2010-5-18 16:54:58

Local Chinese councils are staging public meetings as part of a project by reformers who are looking for ways to promote government accountability without threatening the Communist Party.


TONY JONES, PRESENTER: Well an experiment in democracy is not the sort of thing you"d normally associate with China yet in the south of the country a group of local councils are staging public meetings which allow community representatives to question the decision making priorities of their leaders.

This is the brain child of Chinese reformers who are looking for ways of promoting government accountability that will not threaten communist party.

The project is a long way from delivering open slather democracy and it"s already dividing communist party official but the remarkable thing is that local governments are actually agreeing to let the meetings to take place at all.

China correspondent Stephen McDonell reports.

STEPHEN MCDONELL, REPORTER: Zheijian province, to the south of Shanghai, is on the most prosperous parts of China, but within Zheijian, the town of Wenzhou remains a place of modest incomes.

It"s a centre for farmers and workers. Most are not dirt poor but they"re well short of affluence.

We travelled to Wenzhou for rare access to a meeting. This is the first time that foreign reporters have been allowed to see the so called budget accountability sessions.

LI FAN, WORLD AND CHINA INSTITUTE (TRANSLATION): It has the potential to influence China"s future. It might push governments at all levels to open their budgets.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: This meeting is an experiment in local government transparency.

Basically, government leaders front up to groups of 40 or 50 community representatives in a series of sessions. The delegates are given a copy of the budget and, in theory, can ask whatever they like about how their tax money is being used.

One man asks if the money spent on an industrial park is enough given that there are no trees, lights or other property facility there.

Another asks if enough priority has been given to maintaining the sea wall that"s been built to protect against the typhoons which hit the area every year.

LI FAN (TRANSLATION): Officials at all levels don"t normally want to do this, they"re afraid of ordinary people, they also feel guilty because they take more and eat more. How can they explain that to ordinary people?

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Li Fan, who directs his own NGO, is one of the architects of the experiment.

He says he"s trying to build links between the officials and the public instead of the mistrust that"s existed "til now.

LI FAN (TRANSLATION): Ordinary people would criticise the government for being corrupt. Government officials would criticise people as being bad eggs.

We want to encourage good communication by establishing a dialogue system between the government and the people.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Many of those chosen to participate are stakeholders from various industries.

One man says that if the area really hopes to transform itself the government needs to help smaller enterprises to start using high end production methods.

YE ZHIJUN, CHAIRMAN, ZHEIJIANG SHANGYOU TOOLS COMPANY (TRANSLATION): I asked this morning "how can we improve the quality of our products? How can we improve equipment for small and medium sized enterprises?"

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Delegate Ye Zhijun runs his own tool factry. He says that this process works here because the local government has good reasons to not especially fear accountability.

YE ZHIJUN (TRANSLATION): There were fewer than 20 enterprises in this town ten years ago. Now we"ve developed more than 400 enterprises.

Why is that? It"s because the government has been efficient.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: How much of a, I suppose, a step forward could we call it in terms of some sort of genuine government accountability?


STEPHEN MCDONELL: Professor Joseph Fewsmith from Boston University has been in Zheijian province to study this process.

PROFESSOR JOSEPH FEWSMITH: I"m sure that people are somewhat restrained in their questions. On the other hand sometimes they post rather pointed questions.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Grape grower Luo Renhao said if the government repaired more mountain roads more fruit could be planted in harder to reach areas.

But farmers had another pressing problem to raise: dealing with lousy weather.

Lou Renhao showed us first hand evidence what farmers were talking about. He says the recent winter wasn"t especially cold but it lasted a long time.

His vines sprouted too early and the right season came too late. His plants couldn"t stand the cold.

LUO RENHAO, GRAPE GROWER (TRANSLATION): The government needs to give farmers some technical help. For those farmers who lost a lot this year the government should go and visit them and encourage them but in the end we still have to help ourselves.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: This may be the first time international reporters have been allowed to attend such a meeting but at the last minute they nearly didn"t let us in.

Since we"ve arrived word has reached somebody in upper levels of power that foreigners are here filming the budget accountability sessions.

Well there"s definitely a view that we should not be given access to the meetings and we"ve only been able to continue doing this story because others in the local government believe that the world should see these meetings and they"ve gone into bat for us behind closed doors.

The whole idea of governments being answerable to the general public remains a very sensitive subject for some officials here.

PROFESSOR JOSEPH FEWSMITH: I think spreading it is a very difficult process, for exactly the reason that it does impose a certain degree of accountability.

Most governments in China simply will not open the budget at all.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Are you afraid that in the future some powerful people might oppose what you"re doing?

LI FAN (TRANSLATION): It is highly possible, it is possible. We"ll try and not to let this happen but the power of society becoming stronger and stronger. There are more and more people who realise this is not the government"s money, it"s the people"s money.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Once a year the people of Wenzhou, or the representives chosen for them, get to put a few questions to their government then it"s back to the grind of daily life.

It may be short of full accountability but here at least there"s some sense that people know how their money is being spent. So, maybe, it"s a start.

Stephen McDonell, Lateline.