Plush Govt. HQ - Not Just An Image Problem

When I was reading the essay, what immediately jumped to mind was Hong Kong’s Tamar Government Headquarters…..

Here is my translation of the essay:-

“The Chengdu that emerged from the earthquake disaster appears a little awkward. On the one hand it does not want people to think of it as a disaster area, because that would impede its commercial and tourism activities. On the other hand, it wants to bank on people’s sympathy to seek help from outside. I, for one, have been motivated by such a helping mentality and have sent reporters there to report on the city’s normal activities as planned by the government’s publicity department.

This awkwardness is even more acutely reflected in the role played by government. While it is charged with the responsibility of crisis PR management and to guide the city out of post-quake trauma, its own image runs the risk of being subjected to skepticism. The most ideal result would be that government can help the city solve its development crisis while at the same time solving its own credibility problem. The Chengdu municipal government’s initiative to auction off the luxury government headquarters would seem to be a two-birds-one-stone solution.

On the morning of July 16, the Chengdu party secretary Li Chuncheng announced that the new administration centre of the Chengdu municipal government would be auctioned and that all the proceeds from the auction would be used in re-housing the quake victims and in reconstruction. That afternoon, the Chengdu Municipality issued an official press release to the entire nation at a news conference.

The Chengdu government emphasized that one of the crucial reasons for the action is to solve budget deficit problems and would not admit that the luxurious headquarters have brought on its credibility crisis. But the fact is that since construction began four years ago, complaints from the skeptics have been non-stop. For more than once, it has become for the press a typical case of government profligacy and wastage. On the third day after the earthquake, there appeared posts on the internet saying that while the public dwelled in sorrow, the Chengdu government was quietly moving into an extravagant fantasy garden. The truth turned out to be that the move already started well before the quake. Yet it shows that despite the inaccuracy of the rumor, the cause is, as is often the case, due to gripes piled up over a long period of time. Thus, these luxury premises are once again pushed under the spotlight of public opinion, leaving the Chengdu government in an awkward position.

About the auctioning of the lotus-shape luxury government premises, there are several versions of public opinion. From government’s standpoint, the best version is the one that supports its explanation that the action was based on a ‘people’s livelihood first’ policy initiative. The second best version is that it was due to government’s cash-strapped position that it could not afford such new accommodation. The worst is that the new buildings do not meet earthquake standards, which of course is nonsense. Given the present system and circumstances in China, if a local government insists on moving into some new premises, there would probably not be any legally or administratively warranted call for scrutiny. That is why I would rather believe that this deed is based on the Chengdu government’s goodwill attempt to repair its image, a part of its overall crisis PR management plan.

No doubt this is a commendable act, but it may not earn immediate applause. The Chengdu government should be able to see that this is only a prominent point in the chain of administrative actions. People will not view this point in isolation but will look back and forward from this point and ask many more questions. The publicity department head He Huazhang said: ‘The Wenchuan earthquake has changed the basis of our work and our policy-making.’ According to his statement, the current basis is ‘people’s livelihood first’. What was the former basis then? What was the reason for building these luxury premises that cost 1.2 billion yuans? Government would definitely not say that it was for the enjoyment of public service workers and would say that a classy image would help to attract investments and that the new facilities would enhance work efficiency. Then, are there scientific data that support the assumption that luxury premises can elevate government’s image, and that they can help attract investments and improve government workers’ efficiency?

Going forward, people will be concerned about how the premises are going to be auctioned. If there was no procedure whereby public opinion could be allowed to check and balance government’s action when the premises were first built, then who can guarantee that the auction will be carried out in a fair, open and just manner? At the end of the day, who has the final say on revenues and expenses in public finance? And how does that final say affect the figures? Besides, what about those officials and businesses who bought properties in the vicinity of the government headquarters, hoping to get on the gravy train? The commercial disputes that will arise will, I believe, be much more complicated than a government policy on paper.

As someone who once lived in Chengdu and who loves it very much, I am more inclined to see the positive side of its government’s action and I hope that the city will spring back to life again in no time. But I know that the people who actually live there have even higher expectations – they know too well how unscientific policies of the government can have swaying influence on their lives. This is like some foreigners who love Chinese culture but who do not understand our problems as well as we do – their blind accolade often make us feel even more disturbed. Therefore, if the Chengdu government was hoping that via an auctioning of the headquarters it could solve all the problems prior to and after the construction of the new premises once and for all, then it might err on the side of being over-optimistic.

Moreover, the Chengdu government will inevitably be under a lot of psychological pressure as the issue of extravagant government premises has stirred up complaints and heated debate across the country. Of course, from a positive viewpoint, praises might just heap on Chengdu too.”