Community autonomy

Updated: 2011-09-06 08:15

(China Daily)

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If desirable urbanization makes a difference to the success of China's modernization, whether community autonomy can be smoothly realized will have a bearing on the role urbanization plays in promoting social harmony and political stability.

That explains why "social management" has become a catchphrase in speeches by top leaders, and the State Council released a document in July requiring local governments to do a better job of social management.

Yet where to make a breakthrough remains a key question.

The city of Tongling in East China's Anhui province cancelled sub-district committees in one of its city districts last year and instead replaced this grassroots government organ with community centers that are supposed to play a better role in providing services to residents.

Such community centers consisting of Party committees, neighborhood committees and service centers are intended to integrate all the work concerning social management and social services. They are directly under the auspices of the city district government. They can organize hearings to solicit residents' opinions on issues that concern them, and they organize activities of various kinds for residents.

It is reported that work efficiency has been improved without the sub-district committees in between the district government and neighborhood committees. Something that required 20 days in the past can now be finished in 10 days apparently.

Such a move is undoubtedly necessary. The management of communities needs to be simplified and changes in government setups should be lauded if residents can really benefit from them.

Yet, as far as community autonomy is concerned, what Tongling has done is far from enough. For example, there is still no mention of how such centers will organize residents to elect their own homeowner associations to protect their interests when dealing with property management companies.

True, the new community centers have more money to spend in providing services and organizing activities in the interest of residents. But there are more chances of power abuse and corruption if there is not effective supervision.

Of course, autonomy is not a panacea either. There are reports that leaders of some homeowner associations directly elected by homeowners have sold out the interests and rights of homeowners in collaboration with property management companies.

If anything, what has taken place in Tongling should be considered a first step toward the preliminary stage of community autonomy.

There will be a long and gradual process before real community autonomy can be realized. That will require not just the legal procedure for elections but also the awareness of residents to participate in managing their own affairs.

However, we applaud what Tongling has done and hope it will go further in the right direction.

(China Daily 09/06/2011 page8)