Crackdown on liaison offices

By Wang Jingqiong (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-01-25 07:51
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Latest move to help improve local govts' activities in Beijin

The central government will shut down thousands of liaison offices set up by local governments in Beijing to prevent corruption, official media reported yesterday.

Those targeted are mainly offices set up by county-level administrative bodies, such as counties, county-level cities and districts, according to Outlook, a periodical under the official Xinhua News Agency.

But liaison offices set by provincial-level governments or agencies will remain.

Offices of city-level administrative bodies will be re-evaluated and approved by higher governments, the report said.

Experts said such offices, linking local and central governments, have played an active role in strengthening cooperation between Beijing and regions, but now there have been many of them, with unclear functions and inadequate supervision.

The report said there are 52 semi-provincial-or-above-level offices, 520 city-level offices, and more than 5,000 county-level and enterprise liaison offices currently in Beijing.

"A lot of county-level liaison offices have become reception centers for local officials who come to Beijing," said Zhu Lijia, a professor from the Chinese Academy of Governance. "Actually, county-level governments rarely need to connect with central ministries, so it is reasonable to dismiss them."

Li Chengyan, a professor on anti-corruption with Peking University, said the offices dismissed should not open any new offices under any excuse, and local governments should not permit or give financial support to establish new ones.

However, experts also said the decision could be very difficult to implement as too many people and interests are involved, and some of the offices' functions are necessary.

Li said the existence of such a large number of liaison offices has its reasons.

"They're in charge of coordination, reception, and information processing, which are necessary. Therefore, it is inevitable that some other channels will be worked out to replace these offices in their functions."

"If these needs cannot be satisfied in other ways, the Beijing offices of local governments will exist under different a pretext," said Gong Weibin, a professor from Nankai University.

Ren Jianming, a professor from Tsinghua University, said that simply dismissing offices can only solve the problem temporarily as "the fundamental reasons why so many offices are there won't be solved".

"One reason is that the central government has a lot of resources that local governments need and they have to get it through connections, like construction projects, investment and even promotions," Ren said.

"Besides, most Beijing offices of local governments work on keeping the stability of Beijing by communicating and pacifying local people who come to the capital to appeal to higher authorities".

Ren's words resonated in Zhang Peng, a Beijing office staff sent by a city government of Jiangsu province. Zhang said his main job is to seek business opportunities for his home city and although he would like to go back, his mayor "wants to send more people to Beijing".

"I don't think it would be that easy to dismiss the offices," Zhang said. "We can just change a name for our office and stay."

(China Daily 01/25/2010 page3)