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Survey reveals Web of frustration

03-04-2011 08:40 BJT

Bureaucratic attitude blamed for poor portal services provided by local authorities, Cui Jia reports in Beijing.

Fifteen years after the first government website was launched, easy access to authorities at all levels in the country has become a necessity. Still, many Chinese citizens say local governments are not doing enough to reach out to them.

Experts on the subject say government websites should enhance the quality and speed of public service, improve the transparency of government, facilitate public participation in decision-making and, ultimately, bring together government, citizens, business, community organizations and other groups in society.

However, a report assessing the performance of government websites in 2010 showed that about 78 percent of 450,000 users surveyed online were "very unsatisfied" with the portals. In 2009, more than 87 percent said they were "very disappointed".

Respondents to the survey, conducted by China Software Testing Center under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said they were unhappy with government websites because they couldn't find what they were looking for and the content they did find was outdated, impractical and irrelevant.

"I don't really care where my county's Party chief goes and what he does every day, but it seems that 'the leader's movement' is the section that's most frequently updated on the Dingxiang county website," said Wu Weihua, 30, a restaurant owner in the county in Shanxi province.

Wu visited the county's newly upgraded website to learn about marriage registration, but with little luck. "Under a 'service guidance' section, I did find a link on marriage registration, but when I clicked on it the page was empty." He tried to file a complaint about the problem with the county's Party chief, but there was no online link to do so.

"What's the point of having a government website like this?" Wu said. "Who does it serve?"

The testing center's report said most Chinese government sites have a relatively low supply of information the public needs most - about education, social security, employment, medical care, housing and business services. The vast majority of 441 monitored sites had less than half of the relevant content.

"Some government websites' main purpose is still to please local leaders, not serve people. That's why most of the content on their websites is about which meetings the Party chiefs attended and what he or she said," Zhang Shaotong, deputy director of the Software Testing Center, said.

When people are disappointed with the information or service on an official website, Zhang said, they also may be disappointed with the government that sponsors it.

By the end of 2010, the number of Chinese netizens had hit 457 million, the most in any country. The Chinese government has realized that building gateways to one-third of the country's population has never been this important.

The State Council issued a directive about constructing government websites at all levels in 2002. Now all provincial- and regional-level governments provide them. The number has grown to more than 45,000 since the website of Hainan provincial government debuted in 1996.

Transparency

China's central government requires that official documents be available online, a means of making the government's work more transparent. The State Council required, on May 1, 2008, that officials release information to the public if the requested information involves the public's vital interests.

According to the testing center's report, less than one-third of government sites disclose the government's financial information - the content the public shows the most interest in.

"I think it is a problem of bureaucratic attitude, which some Chinese officials still have," said Wang Yukai, secretary of the China Society of Administrative Reform and a professor at the China National School of Administration. "Some might believe the fewer people who know about government work the better, because they won't cause trouble."

But now local officials have clear regulations to follow, Wang said.


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