I was skeptical of this initiative. Having local government officials publish expenditures online would make for some decent BBS and blog chatter, but little of real interest would be revealed. All the good stuff would no doubt be hidden away from public view in the “real” accounting books.
So here’s how the whole thing works:
In the first case of what netizens are calling “naked government”, township government officials in Sichuan province have posted online public expenditure in first two months of the year, including spending on receptions, cigarettes, wine and vehicle use.
Besides exposing the high level of expenditure, which often hold the potential for abuse of public assets, the official website of Baimiao town, Bazhong city, is also reporting breakdowns of town’ budgets and officials’ salaries.
I’m still a skeptic, and still think that the really bad stuff is not being disclosed, but my position has softened a bit. Some of this information is useful and will no doubt spark some interesting debates.
Some of the more juicy stuff. (Well, “juicy” from my perspective, which is suspect as I am fundamentally a boring person.)
Government spending on receptions accounted for 65 percent of the months’ total expenditure.
For that item alone, the whole program is worth it. Lots of people will rightly start asking why that sort of expenditure is necessary for local government officials. This is not new information, but now it has been quantified. Seems like kind of a big deal to me.
The entries even revealed government spending on cigarettes and wine for superiors.
Let the light shine in. There’s a common practice that should be outlawed. Anyway, I thought all government officials were given plenty of ciggies and wine as gifts.
Access to the township website was denied to many netizens on Monday, as the server could not accommodate “so many visitors”.
The Baimiao town has a population of about 11,000 people, of which 95.5 percent are farmers.
OK, so either all those farmers jumped online or maybe there’s a bit of interest outside this town. Excellent. Also possible is that the town officials got nervous and shut off the site.
Some netizens wondered if suspicious spending would not be displayed in the accounting, and whether coverage would be limited by the cumbersome recording process. Many, however, maintained it as “progress and better than not having it”.
That’s pretty much where I come down on this. Good idea, of course not perfect, but certainly useful as a starting point.
An official from neighboring Guizhou province, who did not want to be named, said the town’s practice was “impossible” to follow, because there may be resistance as the amount of expenditures vary from region to region.
Even better. This official is obviously a bit nervous about the program spreading into Guizhou. Kinda wonder how many cigarettes and wine he goes through on a daily basis.