The headline of a piece of news online intrigued me. It reads: "Bureau chief plays piano to placate public grievance."
The story published yesterday reported a TV dialogue between Tao Cheng, head of the Guangzhou Municipal Bureau of Culture, and some citizens. At the end of the session, the TV program host invited Tao to play a piece of music on piano. The music professor-turned-official played Beethoven's To Alice, much to the delight of the citizens, who had given the official a hard time with questions about his bureau's work performance.
During the dialogue on Monday, a woman told Tao about her frustration after failing to obtain help from the cultural authorities to protect an ancient building from being torn down by estate developers. She had gone to the government department on June 23 to report the case. Half a month later she went there again, hoping for a reply, but only to find that she had to tell the story once again to a new receptionist. After another 10 days, she called the bureau but was told that "the case is still being studied" and "a reply will be given in 60 days."
In his reply to the questioning, Tao admitted that "there is much room for improvement in our work efficiency". He also said his bureau "often went into vehement argument with city planning and construction departments".
Another citizen surnamed Zhang said he had sent letters to the cultural bureau repeatedly during the past 10 months complaining against an unlicensed online game cafe but the authorities had not taken any action. An aide to Tao replied that the bureau had moved on June 3 to close down computers in the bar. But Zhang retorted: "They are still operating today."
The TV program then showed footage of teenagers playing online games in the underground bars the municipal government had announced to have closed. The scenes were shot by TV cameramen after the government announcement. Tao looked embarrassed but expressed appreciation for Zhang's tipping. He also implied that cracking down on illegal online games was the responsibility of law enforcement departments.
In these two cases, the bureau obviously had not taken the citizens' complaints seriously and had been dilatory in office work. However, it is not alone in this style of office performance. Bureaucracy and sluggish work is common in many government organizations.
Admittedly, government departments in many places have made efforts to improve their performance, which has changed significantly compared with several years ago thanks to the repeated warning from the central government against bureaucracy. Tao's face-to-face dialogue with citizens is a proof of such efforts.
However, just as Tao said, there is still much to be improved in government work. For instance, the Guangzhou cultural bureau might have had some problems with the city construction authorities, as Tao implied, but it should not become an excuse for a delay of 60 days to reply to a citizen's request.
It should have sent officials to have an on-spot investigation. If the ancient building had proved to be worth preserving, it should have argued strongly against any attempt to demolish the building. If the construction authorities' reason was convincing enough, the cultural bureau surely would not insist on keeping the building. But in either case, it should have given a timely reply to the citizen who had raised the question.
A timely reply to the public's complaints is not only a show of respect to their rights as citizens but also a demonstration of the government's trustworthiness.
(China Daily 07/30/2008 page8)