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Making the Budget More Transparent
Summary:The second draft of the Budget Law amendment is meant to open government budget details to the public to encourage transparency at oversight. This is a positive step, though many improvements are still needed to ensure the government is completely transparent and able to take public advice.

By EO Editorial Board
Issue 582, Aug 13, 2012
Front Page
Translated by Zhang Dian
Original article: [

The second draft of the Budget Law amendment – which aims to increase supervision of the government budget by making it public and transparent - has attracted more than 310,000 public suggestions in one month.

This perhaps shows that, rather than being indifferent, people just needed an appropriate channel to express their concerns over the government’s budget policy. Those who deny the public’s need to understand the budget are downplaying their rights and interests; if not being downright irresponsible.

The budget has to go through a legal audit by the government. It holds the money but budget details need to be clearly shown and explained to the people and audited through legal procedures. The government shouldn’t use money however it likes without first getting consent.

Budget Law stipulates how the government can gain revenue from the people and spend it properly. The law gives the public full supervision, preventing the government from misusing the money. We think that the law is set to ensure transparency. Only when full information is disclosed can people possibly keep an eye on the budget.

It's laudable that the legislation process has been opened to the people. We note that the current second draft of the Budget Law amendment was submitted at the end of June. If there's a third draft in August, we believe that information including which public advice was taken and what the new modifications are would be appreciated by the people.

The second draft of the Budget Law amendment clearly says that governments at all levels should release their budget and final accounts in a timely manner, which protects the public’s right to be informed and supervise how their money is spent.

For practical implementation, we expect the law to more clearly define aspects like how the budget is released, to what degree it's opened and what punishment exists if it's not opened. Too much freedom by the government to arbitrarily define these things should be prohibited. Otherwise, the government will return to de-facto self-supervision and the whole thing will be meaningless.

Other problems also still exist. For example, the public budget of central departments and some local governments still only show simplified content. Most of the budget only states money spent in a general field rather than giving detailed information about where every penny goes. These are exactly the details the public needs to know.

When the budget should be released is also something worth further discussion. The current draft states that the budget, budget adjustments and final accounts should be unveiled only after passing through the National People's Congress.

But in the interest of democracy, information should be released throughout the process. The current edition of the Budget Law asks the financial department of the State Council to hand in their budget to the National People’s Congress 45 days before it meets. But during those 45 days, nobody has access to the budget details and no concerns can be raised by the people. If the budget makers don’t understand what the masses are concerned about, how can they meet the people’s expectations? A process of interaction and feedback is needed.

In fact, this kind of interaction can help with the problem of too few people understanding the budget. In the past, officials have thought that it's ok if people have difficulty understanding the budget since professional economic knowledge is required.

But we don't think that’s a convincing argument. Since the government is spending the people’s money, it's the government’s responsibility to inform its people how it’s doing so. If this interactive system can be established, then more people will join in overseeing the budget. Under such supervision, problems will surely decline.


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