Bold step to replace township governments

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 August, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 August, 2003, 12:00am

Township governing under reform

The central government will launch drastic institutional reforms to slash the bloated rural bureaucracy as part of its efforts to ease the financial burden on farmers and reduce social discontent, government officials have revealed.

Under the reforms, township governments will be replaced by representative offices of upper-level county governments. This will reduce payrolls, which are funded mainly by farmers, a State Development and Reform Commission (SDRC) official said yesterday.

The government decided to take the bold step after it found the policy of merging townships had been ineffective in cutting rural government payrolls. The mainland has three layers of administration in rural areas - county, township and village.

Village committees are overseen by township governments, which in turn report to the county government, which is under the administration of a city government.

The central government was expected to choose a dozen townships for pilot cases later this year, the official said yesterday.

Under the plan, the township governments and related organisations, such as township-level party committees, People's Congress and local party discipline and inspection commissions, will be scrapped and replaced with county government local branches.

'Township chiefs, deputy chiefs, party secretaries and all People's Congress delegates will lose their jobs. Each township will have a few officials in the local offices of county governments,' the official said. 'It will substantially reduce payroll.'

If the experiment progresses smoothly, the reform would be expanded gradually from next year, said the official, who declined to be named.

Analysts believe the government will announce the wider implementation of the reform at the National People's Congress next March.

'The reform will take about three to five years to complete,' the official said. According to state media, China had 37,896 towns and townships by the end of last year and experts said the township governments were supporting about 19 million people, including township and village officials, retired people and rural teachers.

The official said that rich townships that were financially healthy would be allowed to survive and gradually transform themselves into government agencies.

In a recent seminar on rural issues, Tang Huadong, deputy director of the social security bureau under the SDRC, said 80 per cent of the township governments in the western region and 70 per cent in the central region were bankrupt.

But 80 per cent of the township governments in the affluent coastal region could choose to continue because they could support themselves, said Dr Huadong.

Under a recent directive issued by the State Council, provincial governments have been given the autonomy to decide how to reform local governments below the county level but have been given a target of cutting the size of township payrolls by 30 per cent to 40 per cent for next year.