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River Chief System: Legal Basis and Practical Problems



By Chang Jiwen, DRC


The reality and legal basis of the river chief system. Based on relevant decisions made by the CPC Central Committee and related government legal documents, it has been made clear that the major leaders of Party and government organizations need to shoulder the posts as river chiefs. These decisions are made in light of China’s conditions, and their aim is to solve the problems of environmental protection beyond relevant legal provisions. According to the Environmental Protection Law, the Party and government organizations should jointly hold the responsibility for ensuring environmental quality, which serves as the legal basis for the formation of river chief system.

The river chief system is being implemented step by step in practice. In line with the Guidelines on Overall Implementation of the River Chief System issued by the Central Government, some provincial Party and government organizations, as well as some municipal and county Party and government organizations, have accordingly formulated measures for carrying out the guidelines. As a result, the river chief system has been in place respectively at the provincial, city, county and township level.

Ways to make the river chief system play the expected role. In making the plans for ecological civilization reform, the Central Government has formulated the natural resource-based balance sheet, the auditing system for reviewing the fulfillment of relevant duties by cadres before they leave their posts and the lifelong accountability system relating to ecological damage liability of leading cadres. The water quality deterioration found in the assessment of cadres’ performance, and the water pollution incidents would both be reviewed according to the Measures for the Investigation of Leading Cadres’ Liability for Damage to Ecological Environment (for trial implementation). Water conservancy and environmental protection departments need to perform their duties according to law, strictly enforce the law regulations, be responsible for the river chiefs, and accept the supervision by river chiefs. It would take quite some time for the remarkable improvement of water quality through river chief system, and water environmental amelioration requires great patience.