Reshuffle will lead to better public service
By Qiao Xinsheng (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-03-19 07:30
The public now has a better idea of the 27 ministerial departments of the State Council following the approval of the National People's Congress (NPC) of a plan to reshuffle the central government.
Five "super ministries" will be established: Ministry of Industry and Information, Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, Ministry of Environmental Protection, Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Construction and Ministry of Transport. An energy commission will also be set up as a ministerial-level department under the central government.
Many said the government's reshuffle was not as dramatic as they had expected. But actually, the reshuffle will result in a comprehensive reshaping of the structure and functions of many administrative departments.
Take the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) as an example. Under the same name, the commission no longer has a role in decision-making on issues related to energy, and it will also phase out its involvement in economic micro-management and the examination and approval of specific projects, which comprised about one-third of its original functions. Other ministries will also face a shift in their functions or organization.
Before the latest reshuffle, the administrative had witnessed five rounds of reform since the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949. But the administrative somehow returned to its original size each time after it was trimmed.
Such a phenomena was because of one simple fact: the administrative reforms should have taken advantage of the economic and political reforms. Without remarkable achievements of the economic and political reforms, the government reshuffles could not achieve the goals the decision-makers wished.
Under the planned economy, the administrative was involved in nearly every aspect of economic operations.
Even if certain departments were removed from the government in the reforms, their functions in resource allocation could not be eliminated from the administrative power. Thus, new branches had to be set up, bearing other names or under other supervising departments.
In the early stages there was a ministry of commerce and a special department to supervise the circulation of grains and the transference of industrial and agricultural materials. The ministry and department were both scrapped during the "cultural revolution" between 1966 and 1976.
After the country began its economic reform and opening up in the late 1970s, the ministry of commerce was restored and a ministry of logistics was set up to ensure the economy could function well. Later, a ministry of domestic trade was also set up to form a parallel management system with the ministry of foreign trade.
It was obvious that reform to the administrative departments in charge of commercial activities could not achieve their goals without the establishment of a market economy.
As economic reform progresses, it is accepted by more people that a service-oriented government is indispensable for the future development of China.
The latest government reshuffle sets a better relationship between the different departments of the administrative, so that the government can transform itself into a service-oriented body smoothly.
Departments of the central government have now been arranged into three categories.
The first comprises the Ministry of Finance, the People's Bank of China and the National Development and Reform Commission in charge of the macro management of the economy.
The second consists of those taking care of public services and civil affairs management, and involves the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Industry and Information.
The third category focuses on supervision, and involves the Ministry of Supervision, and the National Audit Office.
The current reshuffle leaves room for further improvement in the future.
The newly established Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Construction will have to nurture close cooperation with the Ministry of Land and Resources on housing, and improving the efficiency of land management and utilization. Such cooperation may need further integration of related departments in the future.
The Ministry of Railway was not consolidated with other departments. Merging its management system seamlessly with other transportation departments would have been difficult.
Therefore, it is an option in the future to transform the railways into a State-owned corporation after a scheme is worked out on construction investment and revenue.
The Ministry of Industry and Information will cooperate with the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Commerce to achieve efficient circulation of information and goods.
Now that the government's reshuffle has been formally adopted, it is the start of a new stage in administrative reform.
As a matter of fact, reducing the number of administrative departments was not the target of the reshuffle, the goal was a shift in the role of the administrative in the country's social and economic operations.
When the time is right, the role should be stated in law to ensure administrative departments to do their jobs and serve the public.
The author is a professor with Zhongnan University of Economics and Law
(China Daily 03/19/2008 page9)