Less is more for government

Updated: 2013-03-11 02:24

By ZHAO HUANXIN and HE DAN (China Daily)

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 Less is more for government
Sheng Guangzu, minister of railways, is the center of media attention on Sunday after a government reshuffle plan proposes to scrap his ministry. [Feng Yongbin / China Daily]

Overhaul sees merger of ministries and agencies to boost efficiency, cut red tape

The railways and health ministries are being axed in an unprecedented government restructuring plan announced on Sunday.

The plan, which will see the ministries become part of larger entities, will slash red tape and ensure greater efficiency.

The overhaul, the seventh in three decades, will see the State Council cut the number of its ministry-level bodies from 27 to 25 while reorganizing several other agencies and departments.

"The State Council has established a framework and function system that has largely met the needs of the socialist market economy ... but still has many problems," State Councilor Ma Kai said.

The government is concerned about the duplication of functions, overlapping management, inefficiency and bureaucracy, and this has allowed corruption and dereliction of duty to occur, Ma said while discussing the plan at the national legislative session on Sunday.

Under the plan, the Ministry of Railways will be split with its regulatory powers going to the Ministry of Transport while its commercial operations will be run by a company. A former railway minister was sacked in 2011 over corruption charges.

Ma told national legislators and political advisers that some government departments have more power than necessary, while at the same time being unable to adequately perform their duties.

In a separate report delivered to the legislature on Sunday, the country's top procurator, Cao Jianming, said 465 government employees were implicated last year on suspicion of dereliction of duty in cases involving making and selling adulterated milk powder, recycled cooking oil known as "gutter oil", and the steroid clenbuterol, which makes pork leaner.

In total, 11,251 people were prosecuted for producing or selling fake drugs or toxic food last year, Cao said.

To improve food and drug safety, the government restructuring program upgrades the State Food and Drug Administration to ministry level to give it more power.

Two media regulators, the State Administration of Press and Publication and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, are being merged to oversee press, publication, radio, film and television.

The National Health and Family Planning Commission will come into existence through the merger of the Health Ministry with the National Population and Family Planning Commission.

Other important changes include restructuring the oceanic administration to enhance maritime law enforcement and protect marine resources.

A regulatory body that sets electricity rates will be absorbed into the National Energy Administration.

"Departments of the State Council are now focusing too much on micro issues. We should attend to our duties and must not meddle in what is not our business," Ma said.

The State Council pledges in the plan on transformation of government functions to ensure the market's fundamental role in allocating resources and let social organizations play a greater role in managing social issues.

In particular, the plan proposes that the government will cut, reduce or simplify reviewing and approving investment projects.

The plan ensures social organizations will be able to offer medical care, health, education, culture and community services in a fair environment.

In addition, it will be easier to launch non-governmental organizations across a range of areas, including industrial associations and chambers, organizations for science and technology, charity and community services.

Launching of these NGOs will entail only registration at the civil affairs authorities, without having to be examined and approved by other regulators, according to the plan.

There were about 492,000 registered social organizations in China at the end of last year, according to the Bureau of NGO Administration under the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

Wang Ming, director of the NGO Research Center at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said the latest planned overhaul showed the government's determination to cultivate "a small government and a big society".

It is reasonable for the government to continue the prudent registration policy for religious, political and foreign NGOs, as most countries have stricter regulations for such organizations, said Wang, also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference — the country's top advisory body.

Li Xueju, former minister of civil affairs, urged the State Council to empower the Bureau of NGO Administration to strengthen its supervision on social groups.

He suggested the bureau should become a vice-ministerial level department and placed directly under the State Council so that the department can recruit more staff for its daily supervision work.

"How can you expect dozens of people to supervise nearly 500,000 organizations," he said.

Contact the writers at zhaohuanxin@chinadaily.com.cn and hedan@chinadaily.com.cn