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New practices in appointing, promoting local officials
( 2003-12-31 09:22) (China Daily)

Many tend to see the lineup of State leaders as an indicator to changes in China's political system.

The change of personnel at local levels, however, may shed more light on China's political progress.

This year many local governments have instituted new practices to regulate the appointment, promotion and discipline of officials.

Some of these practices may end in bubbles like most bluff-and-bluster campaigns of the past. But there remain some that will be recorded as valuable innovations in China's pursuit of clean and efficient governance.

Earlier this month a publicly acclaimed candidate was elected magistrate of Peixian County in the eastern province of Jiangsu, the first time in China that all links in the appointment of a county chief were made open.

Seventy local officials ran in the contest, which started in October. They had to pass preliminary selection by fellow officials in the region, appraisal by the province's Party organization, open speech and question fielding, and a public opinion poll before coming to the local People's Congress for election.

In the public opinion poll conducted in the county of 1.18 million residents, only the top three candidates moved on to the next procedure.

The election process was widely praised among local congress members and citizens, largely because of the procedural transparency, which was different from past elections in which voters had to decide on unfamiliar faces.

So far only village heads in China are chosen through direct votes by villagers. Administrative chiefs at higher levels are elected by people's delegates at these levels.

There is no indication that Peixian's experience will be introduced nationwide in a short time. Its preliminary magistrate candidates were also limited to local officials at certain ranks only.

However, the open nomination of county chief still has far-reaching implications.

The transparent process, as one local official put it, "smashed the dream of some to bribe their way to the post."

It will also strengthen local residents' confidence in the administration and awaken their care for local governance that directly relates to their interests.

The new nomination process, upheld as a major breakthrough in the way of appointing officials, is winning hearts in more places in Jiangsu.

Some townships in the affluent province have already elected their heads through public recommendation and open nomination. Major cities such as Nanjing and Huaiyin plan to introduce the method in district elections.

Despite the great room left for perfection of this initiative, it is a departure from the secretive old practices that may arouse associations to behind-the-scene dealings.

In some parts of the country, authorities have gone further by proving that officials can take the easy way out.

In August, the municipal government of Changsha, capital of Central China's Hunan Province, released a decree that provides for penalties to officials who exaggerate merits, conceal negative information, acquiesce in irregularities committed by subordinates, or underperform in contingencies and cause serious consequences.

Responsibilities of government offices were later published in local newspapers for public surveillance.

The practice was a blow to the old notion held by many bureaucrats that not making trouble is enough to secure their rice bowls.

Some veteran officials in the city even sighed that it is increasingly difficult to muddle on in the official ranks.

In November in the southwestern province of Sichuan, authorities announced a policy requiring officials to resign for mistakes in decision-making that lead to big losses.

It is a harsh measure in the country. Wrong-doing officials, unless liable for criminal offenses, are usually subject only to "internal disciplines" within the government.

With growing income as well as rising political awareness, Chinese people are demanding better government services.

On the top, the ruling Communist Party of China coined the phrase "political civilization" at its national congress late last year, which refers mainly to democracy and good governance.

Fair and transparent official appointments and discipline systems are undoubtedly key to that goal.

The populist approach by the new national leadership demonstrates its down-to-earth efforts to build a system that is responsive to public needs and expectations.

Admittedly, the moves taken by local governments this year alone are far from enough. Some of them will be proven ineffective, while some may need to be written into statutory books for application nationwide.

But as an old Chinese saying goes, "It's better to move slowly than to stand still."

Local governments' initiatives in personnel affairs are pointed in the right direction for the country's political evolution.

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