Please refer your inquiry to the relevant departments

Nothing to see here

In early March, a blogger in Guangdong sent an Open Government Information request to the Ministry of Public Security asking for the total sum that public security departments had collected in administrative fines in 2009.

Under the provisions of a set of regulations that went into effect in 2008 to "enhance transparency of the work of government [and] promote administration in accordance with the law," Chinese citizens can file requests for information with government agencies.

Of course, actually obtaining the requested information is not always an easy matter. Here's a translation of the faxed reply the blogger received in early April:

Reply to Ministry of Public Security Open Government Information Request

No.: 2010 (Reply) #003

Wang Zhangzhao:

On March 18, 2010, this agency received a request for open government information (2010 #004) from you (or your work unit).

Upon investigation, the government information you (or your work unit) applied to receive:

☐ does not exist

☑ does not fall within the purview of this agency. According to Article 21 of the Regulations of the People's Republic of China on Open Government Information, you (or your work unit) are advised to consult the relevant departments.

Ministry of Public Security Open Government Information Office [seal]

In addition to this generic form letter with its two possible responses, a second faxed page contained the reason for rejecting the request:

According to relevant regulations in the Law of the People's Republic of China on Administrative Penalty, public security agencies are not in possession of information concerning the "breakdown of fines assessed and collected" under the exercise of administrative penalties.

"Relevant departments" (有关部门) is a term frequently used in government documents to refer to agencies whose identity should be understood in context, and by civil servants and government spokespersons to evade questions by providing a non-answer. The blogger remarks:

Which departments are "relevant departments"?

Article 21? Or Catch 22? When they want to be seen, anyone can call themselves a "relevant department," but when they don't want to do anything, no one's a "relevant department."

Article 21 of the Regulations stipulates the actions that government agencies ought to take upon received requests for information (translation from The China Law Center at Yale Law School):

  1. If the requested government information falls within the scope of disclosure, the requester should be informed of the methods and channels for obtaining that government information;
  2. If the requested government information does not fall into the scope of disclosure, the requester should be informed that such information cannot be disclosed, together with an explanation of the reasons;
  3. If, in accordance with the law, the requested government information should not be disclosed by that administrative agency or the requested government information does not exist, the requester should be informed of the situation and, if the agency that has the obligation to disclose that government information can be determined, the requester should be informed of the name of that administrative agency and the method to contact it;
  4. If the content of the requested government information is not clear, the requester should be notified to amend and supplement the request.
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There are currently 1 Comments for Please refer your inquiry to the relevant departments.

Comments on Please refer your inquiry to the relevant departments

Kind of like how everything done in China (when it's the government getting the upper hand) is "according to Chinese law".

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