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[BEIJING] Long-awaited regulations to improve government transparency could shed light on China's funding of science and aid scientific fraud investigations.

Yesterday (24 April) the Chinese government released the 'Regulations on Government Information Openness', signed by Premier Wen Jiabao and praised by government officials as a landmark step to increase transparency in key issues in the public interest.

Chinese media reported that the regulations will come into effect on 1 May 2008.   

The regulations have taken more than five years to draft. They were delayed in 2003 after criticisms of the government's handling of information about the SARS outbreak prompted revisions.

The regulations stipulate that all levels of government must actively publicise information on all issues in the public interest ― particularly in areas such as land acquisition and urban planning, where allegations of corruption are common. The functions and procedures of government agencies will also be made public.

Under the new rules, the public can ask government departments to provide information free of charge if they find it has not been released into the public domain. People will also be able to report any failure to comply with these requirements.

Xue Lan, executive dean of the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University, says the new regulations will enable information on science funding and the assessment of completed science projects to flow more freely.

"This will help more efficient and fairer use of science funding," Xue told SciDev.Net.

Zhu Xiaomin, a research fellow at the Institute of Policy and Management at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the increased transparency could help reduce scientific fraud and misconduct in publicly-funded science, since it authorises anyone to access fraud investigation results.

"In a larger sense, this will help narrow the gap between the public and the science community, as information of public scientific institutions can be accessed as part of the government information that is subject to the public enquiries," Zhu told SciDev.Net.

But he added that further details about the implementation of the regulations should be made available to make them more usable in the science field and allow scientific research institutions to create guidelines based on the new rules.

Xue Lan is a trustee of SciDev.Net.

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