Report Cards Bite Chinese Officials

By Wang Yan
Published: 2008-08-26

From Nation, page15, issue no. 381, August 18, 2008
Abridged Translation by Ren Yujie

Original article: [Chinese]

For the past several months, Zhang Lihua and his coworkers have built up a grading system for the local government of Dangshan county, Anhui province.

The system they've developed would influence the appointment and dismissal of some of the county's top bureaucrats. Already, low scores last year led to the sacking of the county's urban management chief and a top cultural officer.

Since forming one year ago as part of a windstorm to clean up local government, the ad-hoc group has gained much praise. However, although locals believed their efforts have, as one local put it, "directly affected the people's livelihoods", it had become the center of debate due to questions of fairness and precision.

Signs of Change
Dangshan county, once famous as China's "pear capital" and located at a crossroads of four provinces and six counties, has slipped into an economic decline over the past five years.

What once was a nexus of highways and railroads teeming with vehicles has since been choked by checkpoints and inspections, with some truckers being punished multiple times for the same offense. Said one driver who has worked the area for many years: "Even if you pass a thousand barriers, you won't get into Dangshan."

Gan Daqing, secretary of Dangshan's Party Discipline and Inspection Commission, said that local government's "work style" had created dissatisfaction among outsiders who work in the province, and ever since, leaders have been determined to clean up Dangshan's bureacracy and give the county's investment image a fresh coat of paint.

After Zhang Xianggen took the reins as Dangshan's new party chief in May 2006, he announced that in order to remake Dangshan as a model for the provinces it connected, it would need to revamp the work style of both high-level cadres in goverment and the departments they worked in. This became known as the "two styles" approach, and inspired an office of the same name.

In April of 2007, Zhang established the "two styles" office to be overseen by the secretary of the county's party committee and five standing committees. Meanwhile, an office was set up under its wing with Gan Daqing, the party discipline and inspection commissioner, at its helm. Eleven staff from eight other county-level agencies, including the propaganda department and public security bureau, were also recruited. Their main job was to supervise and assess other local government departments and to handle complaints and investigations.

On December 27 2007, the "two-style" office selected 450 delegates randomly out of a pool of 4,500 party and non-party leaders and citizens from the county. They were selected according to a pre-determined ratio based on the group they were chosen from.

Two days later, a conference was held and delegates gave scores to the various departments. Results were to be handled according to a "bottom elimination system", whereby the units with the lowest score would see their leaders deposed or demoted.

Three months later, due to low scores, Wang Guanghua, the director of urban administrative enforcement bureau and Jin Qiyun, chairman of literary federation, were deposed. As this story went to press, they had yet to be assigned other positions.

Public Debate
Though measures were taken to ensure the scoring was fair - including an immediate independent verification of the results, there was room for manipulation.

The EO learned that one participant with voting power had received around a dozen phone calls the night before, many seeking to trade positive scores or to ask for lenience in the scoring.

Other opponents aslo questioned the bottom elimination system and the need for full-time workers at the "two-style" office.

Some worried that with leaders being reliably sacked each year, it might cause them to spend more attention on their relationships at the expense of their actual jobs.

A source from education department also questioned the justification of staffing the "two-style" office. He pointed out that the office was not supervised by any other department, and that as an ad hoc organization, its staff were temporarily made up of officials from various departments, who might return to their posts later. Thus he believed it was almost impossible for them to maintain neutrality during assessments.