Yunnan Pilots Local Government Reform Project

By Zhang Chao, Paul Pennay
Published: 2010-12-09

The current party secertary of Yuanma Village - Peng Jinfu

Yuanmou County lies approxiamtely 100km northwest of Yunnan's provincial capital of Kunming, within the Yi autonomous prefecture of Chuxiong, it's home to abut 180,000 residents.

Back in the summer of 2007, the neighboring Nanhua County decided to trial a series of local government reforms that gave greater power to the heads of local government departments by allowing them to choose their own personnel.

Normally the administrative personnel for a department is decided upon by a higher level of government.

The reforms were referred to as "The Boss's Cabinet" or (一把手组阁 yī bǎshǒu zǔ gé).

In July of 2007, the Nanhua County government decided to trial the local government reform by first allowing leaders of the Forestry Bureau, Personnel Resouces Bureau and Finance Bureau to appoint their own administrative personnel.

However, by the summer of 2008, all the heads of these three bureaus had already been moved to other positions by higher up authorities, effectively undermining the reforms.

Due to the limited scope of the reforms and the ability of higher level government officials to remove these new, more autonomous officials from their position, the three-year trial is being interpreted as a failure, with local government procedures in the pilot county slipping back to the old system; some officials appear unaware that any pilot program ever took place.

In July of 2008, the Yuanmou County Party Committee issued documents that provided official party approval for a similar pilot program of local government reforms in their jurisdiction.

The first government department to trial the reforms in Yuanmou was the Bureau of Village Administration in Yuanma Village (元马镇). The head of the bureau was allowed to nominate his own two candidates for the two deputy positions, and then, following party approval, they were installed. This practice not only allowed the head of the bureau to pick his "own team," but also ensured that the Communist Party was able to approve the decision.

In May 2010, after petitioning the county party committee for permission, the trial was extended to the whole of the Yuanma Village government, with the village mayor and party secretary appointing their own administrative personnel and deputies.

When a reporter from The Beijing News spoke to Qian Yonglin (钱永林), the current deputy mayor of Yuanma Village, late last month, he noted how he was under greater pressure to perform after being hand-picked by the head of the village government for the position, "If you have been picked to join the administrative group, how could it be ok for you not to work to your full capacity?"
Other officials have also said that the new team that has been brought together under the auspicious of the pilot program is more united and efficient.

Li Jianbo, deputy head of Yuanmou County's Communist Party Organization Deparment, noted that if the former personnel were to remain behind, it would make it difficult for the new group to carry out their work.

Accordingly, the former civil servants have all been temporarily transferred to other positions throughout the county.

The program has also faced other challenges.

As Zhou Liangcai, head of the Yuanmou County Communist Party Organization Department noted, "the problem of how to avoid favouritism has confronted us since the reform pilot was introduced."

In order to counter the possibility of nepotism emerging, they have introduced regulations that prevent spouses, relatives and other close associates from being nominated.

Despite the failure of similar reforms to take root in the neighboring Nanhua County, the judgement on the success or failure of the project will have to wait until the end of the three-year trial period, when an official appraisal of the program is released.

Despite this, Zhou Liangcai remains heedful, noting that, "as the head of the Organization Department, I'm still a little cautious. After all, the reform will involve solving the problem of finding new positions for the original group of civil servants."

This article was edited by Rose Scobie

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