Putting the right spin on your words is a science. Obviously, the civil servants who owe a fiduciary duty to the public have an urgent need to master this subject. And it helps to shift the blame on someone else, a child, a spouse, or a convenient foreigner will do.
Two weeks ago Yang Dacai, head of the Occupational Safety Department of Shaanxi Province, became notorious across China because of his inappropriate smile when he visited the scene of disastrous transport accident.
He said that it was an “accidental expression.” Chinese netizens dissatisfied with this explanation did some research and found out that Yang owned five different luxury brand watches. Even as Yang was insisting that they had all been bought with his own income, even more watches continue to be discovered, each one more expensive than the last.
He responded that his yearly wage alone is around 170-180,000 RMB ($27,000-$28,000). When pushed further to explain, Yang came up with: “My son also adores watches. We occasionally share the same ones."
Ten days ago Fang Daguo, a political commissar of Guangzhou City’s Armed Forces Department, beat up an air hostess from China Southern Airlines. This triggered another huge denunciation online. Fang then claimed, through the propaganda department of the district he works for, that it was his wife who had had a conflict with the flight attendant, he himself did not participate in the incident.
Then came the exposure of the Hefei Children’s Welfare Institute, which spent a huge sum of money buying a Mercedes-Benz just to keep it idle in the garage. The director of the Institute justified his action: “The car is mainly used when there are foreign guests who came to Hefei to adopt a child.”
Three trump cards
Son, wife, and foreign guest: these three trump cards, however, did not silence or send away the public. On the contrary, it inspired the media as well the netizens to even more relentless pursuits of truth. An African student even exposed the lies of Fang Daguo. He had been a witness travelling in the same plane as the political commissar.
What is intriguing is the reason that each time some incident occurs, officials are always in a hurry to turn around their words, or even brazenly lie.
It’s because of China’s lack of system to publish officials’ assets that Yang Dacai can use his son as a justification. It’s because official institutes don’t have a transparent financial system that a charitable institute dares to blame their responsibility onto foreigners. And it is because bureaucrats shield one another and authorities always hasten to cover up scandals and maintain stability that Fang Daguo did not hesitate to proclaim a falsehood.
The consequence is that the public immediately sees the irrational excuses, full of obvious holes, of the concerned parties. Those in the spotlight and the public enter into a battle of wits, before the truth is gradually squeezed into oblivion. Instead, there should be immediate, clear, logical and vigorous investigation, and mechanisms for accountability.
Therefore in the face of a crisis, civil servants dare to say anything that strikes their fancy, because they believe the pressure is but temporary. All they need to do is find an excuse. Once the incident calms down, the accountability mechanism, questioning the flaws in their words, will simply vanish.
However, what the public and the society need most is clarification, not excuses or lies. Who then ought to question the truth and stop these absurd public spectacles? Until someone steps in, all these events deplete the government’s credibility and damage the existing foundations of society.