Government Reform: Super-Size Me

The Economist reports on government efforts to increase efficiency by merging China’s multitude of bureaucratic bodies into  larger ministries, and concerns that these moves could prove unproductive:

[…]The government believes that fewer and bigger ministries will boost bureaucratic efficiency. It could also, officials say, help the country change in more fundamental ways.

[…]In recent weeks speculation has been growing that a new round of ministry mergers will soon unfold. The 370-odd members of the Communist Party’s central committee are expected to meet later this month to finalise arrangements for the annual session of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, which begins on March 5th. Further steps to create what officials call a “big-ministry system” are likely to be discussed.[…] Bigger ministries, it is argued, should mean smaller government.

[…]Some worry that creating bigger ministries with more responsibilities could backfire. Instead of making government more efficient, it could create even more powerful bureaucratic interest groups that could thwart efforts to make government nimbler and more responsive to public needs. In recent months discussion has burgeoned online in China about the possibility of creating a new commission to oversee economic and political reforms and ensure that ministries co-operate in carrying them out. The lack of co-operation has been evident recently in behind-the-scenes feuding over a blueprint for reducing the wealth gap. It was eventually published on February 5th, with a telling lack of detail.

Officials say that the “big-ministry system” is not just about redefining bureaucratic boundaries, but is an important part of more thoroughgoing political reform. Alongside small government, they sometimes stress a need for “big society”, with much greater non-governmental involvement in the provision of basic services.[…]

Wen Jiabao’s 2008 announcement of the plan to fuse government agencies into “super-ministries” also met with skepticism.


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