Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Battle for Trust

Yesterday's results of the vote in a small community only reveals part of the story.

While the majority are for tearing down their old tongzilou, or U-shaped buildings where families shared washrooms and kitchens, many, particularly the elderly residents showed a deep distrust of everyone.

"Are you going to tell the truth?" they asked a reporter. One even asked another journalist to verify if the notary officials supervising the referendum had proof they were from the Beijing Notary Office.

Both the developer and the residents were eager to use the media to tell their side of the story.

One man surnamed Zhang in his 70s claimed his current living space was 50 square meters. If he agreed to the compensation package he would get 70 square meters, but to him this wasn't good enough and demanded more. He was also concerned the new housing complex may not be built in the two to three years when promised. "Then what do I do?" he asked.

And as one resident described it, the developer is organizing this vote as a face-saving exercise, as the company has tried in vain to get the residents to agree on a compensation package.

The voting procedure was transparent. Literally.

Residents didn't have a secret ballot. Instead it was open for everyone to see if they voted "O" for yes, and "X" for no.

When polls closed at 9pm sharp, the notary officials sealed the clear plastic boxes and they were carried into the gymnasium by security guards. The counting was almost delayed an hour when residents' representatives were asked to move away from the tables and one elderly man refused, demanding his right to see the votes clearly. Organizers relented and other residents' representatives went back to their seats.

The counting was done quickly and efficiently, with only 32 spoiled ballots. However, some 1,700 families didn't vote, and one resident said it was because many of them were opposed to the entire process.

While the vote clearly shows most residents want to demolish their homes to make way for new ones, they still cannot agree en masse on a compensation policy. The ball is now in the developer's court to decide the next step.

This story shows the deep mistrust people have of the government and big business. And this is only one small community. Imagine an entire country with this mindset.

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