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China unveils plan to streamline gov't
2013/03/10

State Councilor Ma Kai delivers a report on the State Council institutional reform and transformation of government functions during the third plenary meeting of the first session of the 12th National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, March 10, 2013. (Xinhua/Ding Lin)

by Xinhua writers Fu Shuangqi, Meng Na, Chen Siwu

BEIJING, March 10 (Xinhua) -- The State Council, China's cabinet, will begin its seventh restructuring attempt in the past three decades to roll back red tape and reduce administrative intervention in the market and on social issues.

The number of ministries under the State Council will fall from 27 to 25, while several departments and agencies will be reorganized, according to a plan on the institutional restructuring and functional transformation of the State Council, which was submitted to the national legislative session Sunday.

Having gone through restructuring six times, "the State Council has established a framework that meets the needs of the socialist market economy but still has notable shortcomings," State Councilor Ma Kai said while deliberating the plan at the session.

"Some departments have more power than necessary, while in some aspects of governance, they are not in a position to act," Ma said.

The central government is troubled by the duplication of functions, overlapping management, low efficiency and bureaucracy, while supervision over administrative power is not fully in place, he said, adding that this has somewhat facilitated cases of corruption and dereliction of duty.

The most important task of the restructuring plan is to transform and streamline the government functions, he said.

MINISTRY OVERHAUL

According to the plan, the Ministry of Railways, which has long been at the center of controversy for being both a railway service provider and a railway industry watchdog, will be broken up into administrative and commercial arms.

Wang Yiming, deputy head of the Academy of Macroeconomic Research under the National Development and Reform Commission, hailed the move as a "landmark."

"It means the country has removed the last 'stronghold' in the way of reforming the industry from a planned economy to market economy," Wang said. "It will open another door for the financing and management of the railway sector."

On March 4, Minister of Railways Sheng Guangzu told Xinhua that he supported the restructuring.

"I don't care whether I will be the last minister of railways. What matters is the needs of the country," he said.

"Self-reform is always difficult. Behind every department there is a lot of vested interest," said Chi Fulin, director of the China Institute for Reform and Development and a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

However, the reform is necessary for the current administrative system. With its old ways of governance, it can not catch up with the changes in reality and has become a center of conflict, Chi said.

Other ministries and commissions to see a reshuffle are the Health Ministry and the National Population and Family Planning Commission, which will be merged into a new National Health and Family Planning Commission.

The status of the existing State Food and Drug Administration will be elevated to a general administration in order to improve food and drug safety.

The country's top oceanic administration will be restructured to bring its maritime law enforcement forces, currently scattered throughout different ministries and departments, under the unified management of a single administration.

The National Energy Administration will be restructured to streamline the administrative and regulatory systems of the energy sector.

Two media regulators, the General Administration of Press and Publication and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, will be merged into a single entity to oversee the country's press, publication, radio, film and television sectors.

BALANCE AMONG GOVERNMENT, MARKET, SOCIETY

The cabinet reorganization plan aims to create an efficient and law-based government with a clear division of power, reasonable distribution of labor and well-defined responsibilities, Ma told lawmakers.

"Departments of the State Council are now focusing too much on micro issues. We should attend to our duties and must not meddle in what is not in our business," Ma said.

While delivering his last government work report to China's top legislature on March 5, Premier Wen Jiabao acknowledged that the transformation of government functions has not been fully carried out and some government departments are prone to corruption.

To build a "well-structured, clean, efficient and service-oriented government," he said the government should continue transforming its functions, separate government administration from the management of enterprises, state assets, public institutions and social organizations.

Xue Lan, dean of the School of Public Policy and Management, Tsinghua University, told Xinhua that the government's role today should be shifted from that of a player to a regulator.

"Now, we stress the quality of economic growth, instead of the speed. To realize quality growth, we need enough room to release the creativity of all sectors under a proper market order," he said. "What the government should do is set rules and act as the judge."

Also, there is huge potential for non-governmental organizations to supplement the government in public services, he added.

In the plan, the State Council has pledged to ensure the market's fundamental role in allocating resources and let social organizations play a greater role in managing social issues.

In this regard, the restructuring plan says that the government will:

-- cut, reduce or simplify the review and approval of investment projects to minimize the inconveniences and high costs involved when enterprises and individuals are trying to obtain the services they require and boost their independence to start a business or make an investment;

-- separate industrial associations and chambers of commerce from administrative departments, and introduce a competitive mechanism with multiple associations to the same industry to boost their independence and vitality;

-- integrate identical or similar institutional functions into a sole government department, such as the registry of housing, forest, grassland and land, which currently fall under different government agencies;

-- break industrial monopolies and administrative hurdles that hamper the circulation of goods and services, and maintain an open and unified domestic market to ensure fairness and orderly competition;

-- increase the government procurement of services and give fair treatment to social organizations in supplying medical, health, education, culture and community services.

The reorganization plan came as the country anticipates a new premier, vice premiers and ministers.

Many consider this the first step to long-term administrative reform.

"To establish a sound administrative system, China still has several tough tasks," Xue said.

For instance, the government will need to build a modern civil servant management system and create a platform where different interest groups can exchange ideas and reach consensus before the government makes decisions, he said.

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