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October 24, 2009

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Government budget hot online item

A WEBSITE providing downloadable government budget data came to an intermittent halt due to a surge of visitors yesterday, the second day the service was launched in south China's Guangdong Province.

Through the official Website of the Guangzhou Municipal Finance Bureau, visitors could download the budgets of 114 departments of the government of Guangzhou, the provincial capital.

It was the first time a city on the Chinese mainland has revealed its budget in cyber space.

"The Website overload highlighted citizens' curiosity and enthusiasm in government budgets," said Chen Xue, a deputy to the People's Congress of Guangzhou and a law school professor with Guangzhou-based South China Normal University.

"The move is a giant leap forward toward government financial transparency."

Zhang Jieming, head of the bureau, said: "This is just a beginning. We will continue to upload budgets as soon as they are approved by the city's People's Congress next year."

Visitors will have access to budget items and revenue and expenditure of all Guangzhou government departments. All the downloadable files, a total of 2.08 gigabits, are as thick as two bricks laid together if printed out.

Li Detao, a Guangdong resident who has long been advocating government financial transparency, said he was heartened by the move.

Li is a member of the non-governmental organization "Team of Public Budget Observation Volunteers," which has been committed to making more people understand how governments spend their tax money.

"We decided to upload the budget onto the Internet at their request," said Zhang. "Taxpayers are entitled to know where money goes."

"As long as the figures are not confidential, every citizen has the right to read them."

Since 2003, the province has been pushing forward its budget audit and supervision.

"The launch of such a service was an important step," said Professor Ma Jun with Zhongshan University in Guangzhou.

"It showed the Chinese government's resolution to improve budget transparency."


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