The Reform of Government Authorities in Towns and Townships

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2013-02-18 17:55
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Following the reform of rural taxes and fees, the Chinese government embarked on a new endeavor to reform government authorities in towns and townships. This new round of reforms began as China was setting out to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects, and as sweeping changes were taking place in rural areas. The targets set for these reforms have since been accomplished, and the results have been remarkable. 

 

I. The reform of government authorities in towns and townships was carried out as part of a wider effort to promote reform and development in rural areas 

 

The reform of government authorities in towns and townships was carried out in line with new requirements for implementing the Scientific Outlook on Development and coordinating the development of urban and rural areas. Towns and townships provide a link between rural and urban areas. They play an irreplaceable role in the transfer of the surplus labor force from rural areas to urban areas, in the development of public services in rural areas, and in the establishment of a unified labor market and a unified social security system covering both urban and rural areas. Therefore, we knew that only through major efforts to promote the reform of government authorities in towns and townships, to transform the functions of these governments, and to create an institutional environment conducive to balancing the development of urban and rural areas would we be able to accelerate the restructuring of the economy and the transformation of the growth mode in rural areas, and gradually achieve integrated economic and social development in urban and rural areas.

On March 31, 2012, a young child runs past a group of elderly residents at the Mutual Support Station for Home-Based Elderly Care in Longfu Village, Du’an Yao Autonomous County, Guangxi. The government of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region plans to spend 830 million yuan on the development of elderly care services in rural areas during the Twelfth Five-Year Plan. The scheme will see the formation of a framework for elderly care in rural areas in which home-based elderly care is the primary form of care and institutional elderly care plays a supplemental role. / Photo by Xinhua reporter Huang Xiaobang

The reform of government authorities in towns and townships was carried out as an important scheme to consolidate what had already been achieved in the reform of rural taxes and fees and to improve initiatives concerning agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents. Work related to agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents has a bearing on the overall development of China’s economy and society. The abolishment of agricultural tax throughout the nation brought material benefit to hundreds of millions of rural residents, providing them with a huge source of motivation and helping to liberate productive forces in rural areas. However, the abolishment of agricultural tax did not mean that the financial burden of rural residents had been fully lifted. Therefore, we knew that to reduce the financial burden of rural residents, ease budgetary pressures, and allocate more public funds for the development of social programs in rural areas, we would have to promote the reform of government authorities in towns and townships and control the number of staff in these authorities. 

The reform of government authorities in towns and townships was carried out under the backdrop of pressing demands to strengthen governments at the grassroots level and provide better services in rural areas. Governments at the town and township level constitute the foundation of state power in China. The ways in which town and township governments were unable to adapt to economic and social development were further highlighted as the circumstances surrounding our tasks in rural areas changed. On the one hand, town and township governments tended to interfere too much in the affairs of rural residents and the activities of enterprises; on the other hand, they lacked the effective means of management needed to cope with new circumstances, being unable to perform the tasks required of them and provide effective services. Therefore, we had to promote the reform of town and township authorities, placing a focus on resolving problems in regard to their functions, organizational structures, and systems and mechanisms, as well as the competence of their staff. We knew that this was the only way of raising the capacity of Party committees and governments in towns and townships to organize and mobilize people, implement policies, and provide better and more efficient services for rural residents, thereby consolidating the foundations of the CPC’s governance in rural areas. 

 

II. The reform of government authorities in towns and townships has helped to guarantee economic and social development in rural areas

 

In our efforts to reform town and township authorities over recent years, we tried new things during reform trials, drew lessons from practice, and made improvements as we went along. Due to this, we gradually expanded the scope of reforms, and constantly took reforms to a deeper level. Following the launch of trials for the reform of rural taxes and fees in regions such as Anhui Province in the year 2000, the central government began to carry out corresponding trials for the reform of town and township authorities, with the focus being streamlining and controlling the number of staff in government authorities, reducing government spending and the financial burden of rural residents, and consolidating progress made in the reform of rural taxes and fees. The abolishment of agricultural tax across the country in 2006 signaled the beginning of a new phase of comprehensive rural reforms covering government authorities in towns and townships, compulsory education in rural areas, and fiscal management in counties and townships. Trials for the reform of government authorities in towns and townships were expanded to cover the whole country, and greater emphasis was given to determining the role and transforming the functions of governments in towns and townships, promoting innovation with regard to systems and mechanisms of governments in towns and townships, and consolidating the foundations of the Party’s governance in rural areas. 

We defined the roles of governments in towns and townships and raised our capacity to perform governance in towns and townships, which helped us to strengthen the foundations of the CPC’s governance in rural areas. The roles of town and township governments for a new period ahead were defined as: promoting economic development and the growth of rural incomes; improving public services and public well-being; strengthening social management and maintaining social stability in rural areas; and promoting democracy and harmony in rural areas. Bearing these overall functions in mind, local governments made efforts in several areas: first, they worked creatively to transform the means by which economic development is achieved in towns and townships, with the focus of their economic initiatives being shifted towards creating a favorable environment for economic development and developing model enterprises that others can follow. Second, they improved social management and public services in towns and townships by developing sound systems for the balancing of different interests and the resolution of conflicts, and by speeding up the development of social programs such as health care and education in rural areas. Third, they encouraged rural residents to participate in the administration of rural affairs, improved mechanisms for governance in villages, and promoted the effective interlinking of administrative management by town and township governments and self-governance by rural residents so that the two were able to interact favorably.

We optimized the organizational structure of town and township governments and imposed strict limits on the number of people that these organizations could employ, which allowed us to build on the success that we gained in the reform of rural taxes and fees. Efforts were made in local areas to identify an organizational structure and mode of operation that was geared towards the characteristics of initiatives in towns and townships. Party and government organizations in towns and townships were laid out under integrated planning, with the number of offices they operate being reduced to between three and five in most cases. In some places, job posts with no designated working location were created, and a system in which multiple duties were integrated into a single position was implemented. Authorities in towns and townships were placed into different categories according to population, area, level of economic development, and financial standing, and limits were placed on the number of people that they were allowed to employ accordingly. The number of leading officials in town and township governments was subject to stringent checks in accordance with regulations, and where necessary cross-overs between the leadership in Party and government organizations were increased. In addition to making major efforts to consolidate their ranks, government authorities in towns and townships were also required to make public the number of people that they employed, manage staff positions on a real-name basis, carry out audits for departing employees, and exercise a system of “one-chop” approval. These measures allowed us to impose stringent requirements on recruitment in town and township governments, step up monitoring and inspection, and strictly control the overall number of government-paid employees. 

We launched the reform of government agencies in towns and townships and improved the systems under which these agencies were managed, which allowed us to raise the standard of public services in rural areas. Government agencies in towns and townships were divided into non-profit agencies and commercial agencies. Non-profit agencies were supported by government funds, whereas commercial agencies were required to be restructured as companies. The result of this change was that public welfare services in rural areas were improved. In the majority of localities, agencies that were originally scattered over numerous sites were brought together in several comprehensive service centers. By integrating resources, standardizing systems, and improving management, these institutions enhanced their overall capacity to serve rural residents. In some areas, certain local government institutions were designated as the regional service stations of county-level government authorities, serving the surrounding towns and townships and allowing for the provision of services over a wider area. Some local governments experimented with new ways of providing services to rural residents by restructuring certain government agencies as companies or intermediary service organizations. In such cases, local governments signed contracts with these companies and organizations to purchase the services they provide to rural residents. These companies and organizations would then be paid in accordance with the quality of their services as evaluated by rural residents. Some local governments channeled private investment into rural public services, encouraging the provision of rural services by all sectors of society and the establishment of specialized farmer cooperatives. On this basis, the basic framework of a system in which a diverse range of service providers offer a diverse range of public services in rural areas was established. Through these reform measures, the capacity of government agencies in towns and townships to serve rural residents was significantly enhanced and the development of public service schemes in rural areas was accelerated, prompting further increases in both agricultural output and rural living standards.

We revamped mechanisms for rural initiatives, enhanced administrative efficiency, and thus promoted the development of service-oriented governments in towns and townships. Local governments promoted the disclosure of government affairs in towns and townships, especially affairs concerning the immediate interests of rural residents and matters of widespread concern, and made constant efforts to make administration at the grassroots level more transparent. Local governments made a commitment to maintaining close ties with the public through the services that they provide. Taking steps to change the way that they approach and provide services, they made major efforts to adopt service measures whose effectiveness had been tried and tested, such as one-stop services and agency services. Further steps were taken to ensure that cadres in town and township governments have a strong awareness of administration in accordance with the law, and to standardize administration in town and township governments so that these governments perform their duties within legal limits and in accordance with legally prescribed procedures. This allowed local governments to maintain social and economic order in rural areas in accordance with the law whilst safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of rural residents. 

 

III. The reform of government authorities in towns and townships provided us with a wealth of valuable experience

 

We must adhere to and strengthen the leadership of the Party and ensure that reforms serve our wider initiatives in the reform and development of rural areas. All of the major measures that were taken in this latest round of reforms were defined by the central government in accordance with the demands of a new situation and new tasks. Reforms progressed on the course determined by the central government, with Party committees and governments exerting their leading role in promoting reform and development and maintaining stability. Coming in response to changes brought about by the reform of rural taxes and fees, the focus of the reforms was to provide an institutional guarantee which will support us in coordinating the development of rural and urban areas, building a new socialist countryside, and promoting social harmony in rural areas. These reforms have proven effective in promoting rapid and sound economic and social development in rural areas.

We must put people first and ensure that rural residents can benefit from the reform and development. In this latest round of reforms, we placed emphasis on improving the standard of services in towns and townships, making government authorities more service-oriented, and providing rural residents with a larger number of quality public goods. The principle that was held to throughout the course of reform was to safeguard and develop the immediate interests of rural residents, and to address those issues which they were most concerned about and which affected them most directly in their daily lives, so as to ensure that people in rural areas were able to benefit from the achievements of our reform and development. These were the fundamental reasons why the reform of government authorities in towns and townships progressed constantly and why it won the heartfelt support of rural residents. 

We must focus on the transformation of government functions in line with realities in towns and townships. A major theme throughout the reform of China’s administrative system has been the transformation of government functions in accordance with new situations, new tasks, and new requirements. During this round of reforms, the functions of town and township authorities were defined in line with the realities of our rural initiatives, the will of rural residents, and the task of establishing a sound administrative system that is geared to the socialist market economy. In practice, town and township authorities defined their priorities according to local realities, adopted new ideas and modes of administration, and developed new mechanisms for rural work. It was this strong emphasis on the transformation of government functions during the course of reform that promoted the transformation of town and township governments from administration-oriented organizations to service-oriented organizations. 

We must take into account the overall situation and promote the reform of government authorities in towns and townships on a step-by-step basis. Based on lessons drawn from previous reforms, we paid attention to balancing the relationships between the reform of town and township organizations and other rural reforms, and also the relationships between the various measures adopted for reform within town and township organizations, so as to ensure that these reforms were interlinked and coordinated as a whole. We took regional differences into consideration while adhering to the unified leadership of the CPC Central Committee, thereby giving full play to the initiative and creativity of local governments and forming a concerted drive for reform. Reforms were carried out on a step-by-step basis according to the order of importance and urgency, with easy steps being taken before difficult ones. In addition, we made overall plans, correctly paced reforms, and made use of various positive factors. These efforts ensured the steady progress and success of our reforms. 


(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.20, 2012)

Author: Director of the State Commission Office for Public Sector Reform

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