Ningbo, a seaport city in the northeast of Zhejiang province in China’s more developed Southeast region, has come in first in the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs Pollution Information Transparency Index (PITI) ranking for the last two years in a row.  Because of their stellar performance on the PITI, I thought it’d be worth paying a visit to Ningbo to learn about their motivations and reasoning for being so proactive in terms of information transparency. According to the latest PITI report, Ningbo “continues to exemplify good performance with regard to responses to public information requests, publication of enterprise violation records and open environmental information on the disposition of verified petitions and complaints.” For enterprise violation disclosure, Ningbo achieved the maximum number of points (28 out of 28) in the PITI grading rubric. Keep in mind that the PITI mainly focuses on corporate pollution and corporate violation information, other types of information such as environmental quality or ambient air pollution information is not included (IPE piloted an Air Quality Information Transparency Index, which you can read about in my post).

Why does Ningbo care so much about information transparency? Ms. Haizheng Wang, who heads the propaganda department in Ningbo’s EPB, told us that the city’s emphasis on environmental transparency is part of a larger city-wide effort called “Credit Ningbo,” (信用宁波, xinyong ningbo) that has been in place since 2002.  Credit Ningbo aims to build public trust in government institutions and corporations by having all government agencies that in some way deal with corporations report relevant information and personnel.  When I checked to see what kinds of government agencies are included in this initiative, I noticed that the Ningbo EPB is required to report two types of information: punishment information for corporations, as well as examples of ‘exemplary corporations.’  Under the ‘update frequency’ column, it is noted that the EPB information is supposed to be reported in ‘real time.’  However, when I tried to check the violation information (失信公示,shixingongshi), the most recent pollution violation information was from May 28, 2010.  Clearly, the pollution violation reporting is not being updated in real time, but I at the time of writing this post, Ningbo EPB’s website happen to be down, so I am unable to cross-check to see how up to date the pollution violation information is on their website. Ms. Wang also said that the pressure of being in the top of the PITI has also motivated her department to continue their good work on information transparency.

Nonetheless, we were still thoroughly impressed with Ningbo’s top-performance two years in a row, as well as the amazing blue-skies and white clouds that welcomed us.