The Social Responsibilities of Public Institutions

By EO Editorial Board
Published: 2010-08-17

Issue 482, August 16
Translated by Tang Xiangyang

Original article:[Chinese

Nothing could make one feel more dejected than hearing the radio announce that your city has good public security a moment after you have been robbed.

The interview between the Xinhua News Agency (Xinhua) and the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) can make you feel this way. In a news report published by Xinhua, Xia Xinghua, deputy minister of CAAC said, “The punctuality rate of China’s civil aviation is around 80 percent, which is one of the best rates in the world.” Of course, this feeling of dejection is not because readers of this news item can’t take a joke, but because we are fully aware that Xinhua never publishes jokes or satire. It is a serious official news agency that is never linked to vulgar content.

The responses by the CAAC to the reporter’s questions reflect typical attitudes of today’s public institutions. First, whenever a problem arises, their first reaction is to avoid responsibility rather than thinking of a way to solve the problem.

Throughout the interview, Xia Xinghua kept emphasizing that the CAAC has been performing pretty well and at an internationally advanced level. Then, Xia Xinghua admitted there was a slight oversight, but the responsibility for this oversight is not the CAAC’s. Xia Xinghua attributed the delay of flights to “extreme weather conditions” and the rapid increase in demand for aviation services (this reason seems like attributing famine to too many people wanting to eat). He also blamed how exhausting aviation industry jobs are: “On average, every plane has to fly three to five flights and is in the air for over ten hours every day; 16 hours in general.”

It seems that the CAAC thinks that even having paid for their tickets, passengers “should” still wait for hours before boarding. Of course, even if passengers have high taxes, a mortgage and school fees to pay they still can not worry about their own economic situation and refuse to pay the ticket price or ask for a large discount.

Second, public institutions will refute the bad experiences of individuals by listing various statistics. You say you have waited in the airport for over ten hours? They will say, according to their statistics, the punctuality rate of China’s civil aviation is 80 percent. If you complain about the expanding income gap and social instability, they will say, according to the data provided by the Chinese Academy of Social Science, 22 to 23 percent of the Chinese population is middle-class. If you say you cannot afford an apartment with such high housing prices and have to live in a tiny apartment, they respond, the Ministry of Construction announced in 2007 that the average living space per capita in Chinese cities has increased from 22.8 square meters in 2002 to around 28 square meters at the end of 2007 and 83 percent of urban residents own property.

Next follows the standard tactic of confusion and avoiding responsibility. When asked, “Why is there a difference between the public and the passengers’ personal experience, and statistics?” The CAAC answered, “The main reason is the flight time printed on airline tickets is the time when cabin doors will be closed rather than when the plane will take off.” This standard will make the passengers who are sitting in a plane awaiting take off feel desperate because it means as long as you have boarded a plane before the time printed on the ticket, you cannot say the flight is delayed; currently the occurance of passengers sitting on a plane awaiting takeoff for long periods of time is prevalent.

That is not the only instance of the standard tactic of confusion and avoiding responsibility. Another example is that both the poisonous milk powder and the milk powder that caused an early onset of sexual maturity in female infants passed the complex standard examination of related government departments before being sold. We may even say it is the fault of the government and its oversight mechanisms that those products reached consumers and not the fault of the companies that manufactured the products because when we purchase such products, we are not investing our trust in those sellers and companies, but in our government and its oversight mechanisms. Otherwise, only chemists would dare to buy milk powder.

The core problem is that our public institutions have never realized that they are a public service provider. They are like stubborn teenagers who have no sense of responsibility. When they fail to conduct their responsibilities, they will hide and wait for things to calm down or shrug their holders while saying, “Well, you know, it is has nothing to do with me.”

Social responsibility is currently a popular expression used to make requirements on both commercial agencies and individual citizens. While the latter is supposed to have the social responsibility of not fostering vulgar content, the former is required by social responsibility not to make earning money their only focus. In that case, public institutions should also bear social responsibilities rather than avoiding them.

This article was edited by Rose Scobie