Second Round of “Super Ministries” Reform Ahead

Caijing reports on a draft plan to merge the Ministry of Railways into a larger “super-ministry”:

Caijing learned in late February that the draft plan for a new round of “super ministries” reform will be discussed during the upcoming second plenary meeting of the 18th CPC Central Committee, putting “super ministries” on China’s reform agenda once again after five years of exploration and debate.

Super ministries reform features consolidating government agencies with similar functions to reduce administrative overlapping and promote efficiency.

[…]Under the plan, the Railways Ministry will be merged with the Ministry of Transport, in a move which has won popular support. In addition, food and drug safety authorities will be integrated into a regulator dedicated to market supervision; and the powers of the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the State Oceanic Administration will be expanded. However, consolidation of government agencies in the energy, cultural, and financial sectors, as well as the formation of a national organization which coordinates reforms in different sectors, though widely anticipated, have not been included in the plan.

The draft plan, though basically completed, may be subject to changes before being put on the table of the central leadership, said an expert who participated in drawing up the plan. The version that comes out after the second plenary meeting of the 18th CPC Central Committee is expected to be final, said the expert.

Recently, a far-reaching web of corruption was discovered in the Ministry of Railways.

In the beginnings of China’s “reform and opening up” era, attempts to streamline bureaucracy by merging public ministries were taken in effort to increase government efficiency. AP covers the recent closed-door meeting where new rounds of bureaucratic mergers were discussed, provides an overview of the first round three decades ago, and touches on the controversial nature of this practice:

In 1982, the number of Cabinet-level ministries and commissions was slashed from 100 to 61. In the 1990s, museum pieces such as the Ministry of Machine Building that were no longer needed to set prices and tell companies what to produce were eliminated. In 1998, then-Premier Zhu Rongji shrank the number of ministries further from 40 to 29.

At the same time, Beijing created Western-style regulators for banks and securities. A Ministry of Commerce was formed in 2003 to bring together trade and planning agencies, simplifying some trade regulation to make it easier for private sector traders to function.

Such change can provoke furious opposition. In the last round of proposed reforms in 2008, the only thing leaders finally agreed on was to make the environmental regulator a full-fledged ministry in response to an avalanche of pollution scandals.

Creating fewer, bigger ministries would fit with party pledges to make the economy more productive and keep incomes growing. Xi has called for a “renewal of the Chinese nation,” raising hopes a new leader whose attitude toward reform is still unclear might throw his political weight behind remaking the government.[…]

Also see “Government Reform: Super-Size Me,” via CDT.


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