A clip from a TV report about the hidden cameras
Spring Festival is usually a time of celebration, but this year it was also a time of embarrassment for some government officials in Hunan province. According to a Xinhua report, local governments across the province used webcams and other small “pinhole” cameras to secretly record lazy government cadres sleeping, playing browser games, and watching online videos during work hours. The secretly-recorded videos were edited together as part of a new propaganda production on how officials should behave, and there are already calls for some more permanent form of supervision to keep officials from wasting time at work.
The proliferation of the internet in China has made work faster and easier in many ways, but it also provides ample opportunities for time-wasting. Many popular games and videos can be played from any computer with a connection, and at a job I once held working for a state-owned company in China it was not at all unusual to see employees casually watching soaps on Youku or playing browser games in the middle of a work day.
This, of course, is a problem that employers everywhere face, but Hunan’s new movement to stamp out laziness in government workers could prove to be a strong deterrent if the officials caught wasting time are actually punished in a meaningful way. Web cameras and other recording devices are almost everywhere now; in cities, many Chinese people are carrying phones capable of recording HD video. If Hunan’s approach catches on, being a lazy official could become an awful lot harder to get away with.
That’s a good thing, and in fact, I’d like to suggest that Hunan and other provinces take things a step further by setting up web cams with publicly-accessible feeds in government offices so that the people can observe what public servants are doing with their tax dollars. Surely it wouldn’t be too difficult to set up a dedicated site, or perhaps a streaming partnership with a web video company, that users could log on to and watch over government offices. Call it crowdsourced supervision.
In fact, perhaps these web feeds could also be accompanied by a button that, when clicked, would sound a loud klaxon alarm in the office to wake up anyone who was sleeping. I’m sure that internet trolls would abuse that kind of system mercilessly, but you have to admit, it would resolve the problem of officials sleeping on the job!
OK, that’s not a realistic suggestion, and although it would be technically possible, I doubt many local governments would ever make public feeds of their offices available online either. Still, they really should consider it. In addition to cutting down on time-stealing, it would also be a great step forward in the direction of government transparency and it could even help cut down on corruption (although most of that happens outside the office).
The technology is there; all that’s needed is a government with the guts and vision to implement it. Someday, I hope I’ll be able to go online and waste time during my workday by supervising local government officials online.
(Xinhua via QQ Games)
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