site: HOME > > Economic > News > Economics
Shi Yajun: Surveying the Chinese Government

Shi Yajun: Surveying the Chinese GovernmentFrom News, page 7
Translated by Rui Bingyou

How big are China's local governments? How much power do they actually wield? What tools do they use to implement policy? What relationships do they have with each other? What kind of financial stresses are they facing?

Charged with answering these and more questions, a group of scholars from the China University of Law and Politics has been moving forward with what is likely to be one of the largest surveys of Chinese government administration since 1949.

On January 19th, the Economic Observer interviewed Shi Yajun, party secretary for the China University of Law and Politics and director of the project, which is backed by the State Council and financed by the Social Science Fund.

The Economic Observer: Since reform and opening up, there have been five rounds of political reform. Despite continued calls for deeper reform of the bureaucracy, why hasn't there previously been an attempt like this before?

Shi Yajun: To fill this blank, that was precisely the reason why we started looking into the Social Science Fund. How the administrative management of China is structured, what the powers at the different levels of government are, the power relationships involved, the mechanisms for leveraging power... we've never once examined these questions at the national level.

Why hasn't it been done before? The degree of difficulty was too great. National, large-scale surveys require scientific standards, the mobilization of significant human, physical, and financial resources, and coordination with government at all levels. To lack any of these would mean failure. The project's backing of the Social Science Fund allowed us to overcome much of the difficulty presented by this task.

EO: What special considerations were made in choosing the points to be surveyed?

Shi: According to the tenets of social survey sampling, we picked the East, West, Central, and Northeast-- 14 city and provincial autonomous regions. We went to four layers of government-- provinces, cities, counties, and towns. We took special consideration in visiting both developed and developing areas, the disparities between which were quite big. We also kept in mind the size and roles of the Macau and Hong Kong governments. This time, there were 13 research teams, each with two to three professors  or doctoral students, and Masters candidates, in total, a hundred people.

EO: Disparity between these places [in China] is quite big. How was a unified standard developed? How was it used in the process?

Shi: As a result of repeated discussions, we came up with 11 indexes, which themselves were composed of over 50 second-tier indexes. The major indexes include local governments function, institutions, inter-governmental relationships, operating mechanisms, human resource systems, legal systems, administrative culture, administrative tools, public finances, social autonomy, and special systems.

The research group obtained documents, took personal interviews, collective discussions, and sent out questionnaires. We interviewed ten leaders from the provincial level, and I personally interviewed provincial party committee secretaries, and six provincial governors. In total, we held 90 interviews with 115 leaders from various governmental levels. We held 97 interviews with 876 people staffed at various government ministries and departments. At the same time, 2,579 people responded to our questionnaires, and we collected records relating to local policy, reforms, and regulations for a total of 3,787 documents.

The voice of local government

EO: After surveying so many officials across local governments all over the country, what left the deepest impression on you?

Shi: For example, reform of financial transfers and payment methods, in the East, it is widely believed that the projects not screened under proper procedures should be canceled, and earmarked projects should be reduced; the general consensus was that these projects are not in accordance with regulation. Other regions we surveyed said that not only should they be kept, they should be increased-- in scope, strength, and flexibility.

Why would it be like this? Because there are still not enough financial resources available. A county in Jiangsu province might have the government income equivalent of one or two provinces in western China. We summed up the “117 phenomenon”. There are 2,800 counties in China, the biggest of which have 2.6 million people, the smallest of which have just 20,000. The bottom barrel cost to run a county and support 7,000 officials and staffers is 100 million yuan a year. In western China, GDP is already low-- you tell me, what can they do?

The East specifically felt that government should lay more stress on getting a handle on social management and public service; in the West, Central, and Northeast, the big demand is for more investment of time, energy, and resources in developing the economy. It was to the extent that even some Central and Northeastern leaders were saying, of course we want to invest most of our energy in social management and public service. But to do this there must be a strong economic foundation, and if GDP and incomes don't increase, while we bear massive social and political responsibility, how could it be OK to not seize the economy?

With the recent system, investing companies have been fond of dealing with local government because the latter has the final say. Not only are they going after mayors, but local party secretaries too. And so in these areas quite a lot of leaders are going out to discuss these projects personally.

EO: What kind of differences in opinion do they have over how to reform administrative management in government?

Shi: Throughout the survey of the 14 areas we found unanimous agreement that there are a lot of problems and abuse, deeper reforms are urgently needed, and furthermore, reform must be pushed from top to bottom. Not one survey disagreed with this.

They differed mainly over: First, the root problems, with some saying that the establishment of function was the problem, and others saying it was a problem of power and responsibility structures; second, the reasons for this were disagreed on, some saying that scientific, democratic, holistic principles were not used during the reform process, and others saying that special interests in ministries and in local government chose biased reform policy...

EO: Were there any more concrete suggestions?

Shi: There were many concrete ideas and suggestions, a total of 900. They were basically rooted in the base level of government and the inter-relations between higher and lower level administrations. For example, talking about the expansion of organizations, staff exceeding quotas, there was universal agreement that because of the Organization Law and related regulations, administrative bodies and state-run institutions have no way to manage and are very relaxed. Thus, the bloating of staff became common practice, and stability in staff numbers became the exception..

Another example is vertical management. In the beginning there were two forms of management, but when national and local economic development conflicted, many enforcement agencies hit a wall, called “can't stand up, can't sit down” because local officials are powerful and have a say in determining their career advancement.

In order to solve the problems of carrying out central policy, some policy-enforcement agencies instated vertical management systems-- for example, in industry and commerce, in quality control, auditing, environmental protection, customs, etc. But vertical management encountered another problem; that is, they could manage what was invisible, and couldn't manage what was visible. The central government had the power to manage but couldn't see things, and local government could see things but couldn't deal with them.

So why would Hu Jintao, at the 17th Party Congress, strengthen government's system of powers and responsibilities? If you have this power, you have to be responsible for it, you bear a degree of responsibility, you must seize the necessary power. And what kind of situation is our government's system of responsibility and power currently facing? To take one province as an example, as soon as it's said that the next tier down of government will have its power to enforce revoked, that morning it will be worked out, and that afternoon it will happen. But as soon as it is decided that power is to be transfered down to the next level of government, a week or even a month later, nothing has happened.

Through the survey we realized, the phenomenon of disconnectedness is pretty severe, and is concretely embodied by two aspects: inside government, power is at the bottom but responsibility is at the top; in the State Council, a minister listens to a department head, who listens to the section chief, with the last having the most actual power. Between local and central government, power is on top, responsibility is on the bottom; the central government has 60 or 70 percent of the financial resources, and it manages 30 or 40 percent of affairs. Meanwhile, local government has exactly the opposite.

EO: In the coming years, what will be the biggest challenge for or sticking point in China's administrative management system reform?

Shi: First, we must affirm the positive role of the system. If we deny this, then the great achievements it has made during the past 30 years would have been unimaginable. At the same time, we must admit that the current system has many problems, and limitsgovernments’ ability to perform their duty accordingly. If we don't change things, and continue economic, education, medical, cultural, scientific, and social reforms, all of them will encounter numerous road-blocks.

Consequently, in one aspect it should be seen that some of the problems are long-term and have historic, cultural reasons for emergence and solidification. It doesn't matter what domain, what level, what link they appear in, they are multifaceted and to truly solve them means not relying on loyalty or enthusiasm, but instead, rely on reason and intelligence. In short, to not reform the administrative management system is not OK, to deepen reform but not address these problems is not OK, and to ignore the complexities of these problems will lead to an inability to solve them.

EO: Hu Jintao said at the 17th Party Congress, “We must seize and formulate the whole of the administrative management system's reform.” According to your understanding, what will the reform process be like down the road?

Shi: My understanding is that Secretary General Hu's “whole” is a matter of both domain and layers, of both time and space.

The five layers of government that make up the administrative management system has already become a string of dominoes, whatever happens at one layer of government can be traced to others. For this reason, reform of the system is not a matter of reforming just the central government; reform of the State Council is just one step. During the drafting of the reform scheme there should be ample consideration of how all forms of government are linked. Furthermore, reform of the system doesn't mean simply making functional or institutional adjustments, but also touch upon inter-relationships, restrictions, and functions.

And the reform plan can't just solve the problems over the next five years. There has to be consideration of the short, medium, and long term—it's absolutely not something that can be accomplished in one week or overnight. There is a spatial element as well—China's sheer size and the disparity within it necessitate bringing together of local governments to bridge their identities and disparities, their commonality and uniqueness.

EO: Recently there have been a lot of people advising the State Council's institutions to reform, does your reform plan have any special suggestions here?

Shi: After the the suggestions came out, we solicited feedback from officials and experts. They said it was a good plan, but too difficult to put in practice. So later, we created two versions, a theoretical one that changed the State Council's 28 departments into 18—big changes, especially considering that we eliminated the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). Partial data shows that the State Council currently has over 80 overlapping units, with the most resulting from the NDRC. How much power does the NDRC have? Almost nothing is untouched by it. The power to approve projects, the power to set policy, why is it so focused? Where many powers can be be given to specific ministries, many of them are empty and have no power to set policy. The realistic plan that we submitted brought the number down to 21. In both versions, we broke things into big departments-- health, transportation, energy, agriculture, etc.

EO: But it seems that this and the reform plan that most people talk about is not too different?

Shi: Maybe from a departmental view, 18 or 21 of them seems the same as what other people are suggesting, but they are definitely different. We followed the Hong Kong governments setup, last October, I personally led a team there and to Macau to evaluate them. They both have three wings of government devoted to policymaking, and below that, 68 are all policy-enforcing organs.

EO: Won't having such large departments lead to the same kind of culture of secrecy that happened before?

Shi: It won't, this is something we've already thought of. In reforming the system, of course the end result is critical, but the key is how those important parts connect to each other. In the whole framework, we broke everything down into four categories: political, economic, social, and supervisory. And within each department, policy organs and enforcement organs are split up, in order to try hard to realize the mutual balancing and separation of powers over policymaking, enforcement, and supervision. At the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner we will release the scheme to the public.

Related Stories


Comments(The views posted belong to the commentator, not representative of the EO)

username: Quick log-in

EO Digital Products

Multimedia & Interactive