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China Daily Website

Streamlining government

Updated: 2013-03-11 07:59
( China Daily)

The just unveiled plan to reshuffle State Council agencies may not be as broad or thorough as some anticipated, but even with some apparently "interim" arrangements, it is a welcome move.

This rearrangement addresses some of the public's outstanding concerns - most noticeably food safety and the "independent kingdom" of the railways.

Starting with such prominent targets for public dissatisfaction may bring dual rewards. On one hand, it meets public expectations, delivering the reassuring message of reform-minded leadership. On the other hand, the corresponding public discourse, which has covered almost all the variables involved, can be a ready source of wisdom for the reform planners.

A variety of food-related scandals in recent years has resulted in repeated pledges of change and the establishment of a food safety committee. Yet such pledges have not prevented food safety from ballooning into a national source of shame and humiliation. There has been a pervasive consensus that the ineffectiveness, or collective irresponsibility, of the food safety watchdogs has its roots in the awkward chains of command and poor coordination between them.

The Ministry of Railways is the epitome of the other extreme. Former railway minister Liu Zhijun's corruption scandal was the most recent reminder of how bad things can get when a government institution oversees and runs a monopoly business at the same time.

The proposed State General Administration of Food and Drugs will integrate the responsibilities of five existing agencies, unifying safety guarantees throughout the chain of production and distribution. The new arrangement is surely conducive to ameliorating our food safety concerns.

Dismantling the Ministry of Railways - handing its planning and policymaking functions to the Ministry of Transport and leaving its business operations to a national railways corporation - is an overdue move to correct an evident wrong.

There will also be mergers between the State Administration of Press and Publication and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, as well as between the Ministry of Health and National Population and Family Planning Commission.

Such structural changes at the central level will certainly have significant effects on the way public affairs are managed.

But they should only be the initial moves in transferring the functions of the government, which has been high on the agendas of similar reform initiatives.

Building a service-oriented government will take more than just structural rearrangements.

(China Daily 03/11/2013 page9)