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Governance needs improvement
( 2003-08-14 09:17) (China Daily)

A rational division of power is the keystone to the supervision and regulation of public governance.

China adopted a highly centralized management system under the former planned economy, which was characterized by the following features.

Relations between government and enterprises and those between government and society were not clarified. The government often directly made decision on matters that should be left to enterprises or society.

In relations between lower-level and higher-level governments, and those between local and central governments, lower-level governments did not enjoy autonomy in decision-making on matters that should have been within their own jurisdiction.

In relations between the Party and administrative bodies, administrative decisions were made by committees of the Communist Party of China (CPC) at all levels, not by the administrative bodies themselves.

File Photo: A woman shops in an almost empty supermarket on April 24, 2003 as Beijingers went on a shopping spree after the SARS outbreak. Cover-up of information in the early stages of SARS had taught Chinese government a lesson that it is time to improve governance. [newsphoto.com.cn]
The faults with the old system were and are obvious.

Main leaders could easily place themselves above administrative bodies and make decisions on key issues on the basis of their own wishes, ignoring the principles and efficiency of collective leadership.

This damaged the socialist democratic and legal system, hindering the development of socialist society.

Highly centralized power inevitably results in bureaucracy and low efficiency, and also nurtures corruption. It is susceptible to mistakes in decision-making.

"Over-concentration of power is becoming more and more incompatible with the development of our socialist cause. The long-standing failure to understand this adequately was one important cause of the 'cultural revolution' (1966-76), and we paid a heavy price for it. There should be no further delay in finding a solution to this problem," said China's late leader Deng Xiaoping in his article of the Reforms of the System of Party and State Leadership, which is in the Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Volume II.

Since the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the CPC in 1978, the second generation of leadership with Deng Xiaoping at the core summed up the experience and lessons of history, and firmly instituted reforms, blazing new trails in socialist modernization.

The two-decade reform, in essence, was a crusade to get rid of the highly centralized management system and establish a new system with appropriate division of power.

Significant achievements have been made in both the economic and administrative institutional reforms.

But the residue of problems inherited from the old over-centralized power system is far from being rooted out.

It remains a pressing task to drive deeper the reforms, especially the reform of the political system, and to further rationalize the system of power division.

What should be stressed is that in democratic centralism, which is the organization principle for both the Party and the State, the basis and core is democracy, and the essence and the ultimate goal is also democracy.

The role of the Party as a leader should be further improved. The Party should bring about rule by law, and rule in accordance with principles and procedures of the socialist political democratic system, in line with the spirit of the Party's 16th National Congress.

The functions of the Party and the administration should be clearly separated, and the roles of governments at all levels should be fully respected.

Deng said in the same article which was written in 1980: "All matters within the competence of the government will be discussed and decided upon, and the relevant documents issued, by the State Council and the local governments concerned. The Central Committee and local committees of the Party will no longer issue directives or take decisions on such matters. Of course, the work of the government will continue to be carried out under the political leadership of the Party. Strengthening government work means strengthening the Party's leadership."

The different functions of the government and enterprises and the government and society should be clearly defined.

The jurisdiction of the central and local governments should be clarified. The autonomy of local governments and grassroots organizations should be guaranteed and their enthusiasm in management be encouraged.

The system for the supervision of power should be improved to ensure that public power is used for the benefit of the people. Corrupt activities such as trading power for personal benefit should be eliminated.

A rational system of power division system should embody the following characteristics.

First, under a properly divided power system, no individuals, organizations or government departments should infringe upon the legal rights of citizens, or act in violation of the Constitution and laws.

Under the appropriate power division, central power should not be monopolized by any State organ or organization and it should not infringe upon or override local autonomy or the legal rights of enterprises, organizations or individual citizens.

At the same time, local power should not pose a threat to the unity, sovereignty or territorial integrity of the State, should not challenge the united political and legal system of the country, or challenge the legal central authorities. Economically, it should not hinder the building and development of a united socialist market system.

Local power should neither infringe upon or override the legal rights of citizens, enterprises, social organizations or agencies.

To break away from the old highly centralized power system and establish a reasonable power division is a necessary principle in the modernization of governance, a requirement for the development of the socialist market economy, and a requirement in the strengthening of socialist legal and democratic construction.

Note: The author, BO GUILI, is a professor of public management with the National School of Administration. The article first appeared in the Beijing-based Study Times newspaper.

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