Village reforms a dismal failure

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 February, 2005, 12:00am

Drive to slash bureaucracy has achieved little and management is 'in chaos'

China's decades-old village and township government reforms designed to solve overstaffing and cut costs are failing dismally, according to a survey by a State Council think-tank.

Some local governments had covered up the poor results of the reforms by falsifying documents to keep their superiors happy, rural experts who conducted the study said.

The two-decade-old reforms have been seen as essential in the drive to overhaul the backward and inefficient rural sector.

The main priorities have been to streamline bureaucracy and improve government efficiency.

But the State Council Development and Research Centre's 2002-04 survey painted a damning picture.

Zhao Shukai , a professor with the centre, said: 'The government bodies are actually expanding instead of shrinking, while their efficiency has not improved and management is in chaos.'

The survey focused on 20 village and township governments in 10 provinces. Officials in three-quarters of the governments said there had been no recognisable cuts to staff or spending, nor gains in efficiency.

Only a quarter of respondents said overstaffing had been addressed to some degree.

At the start of the 1990s the mainland had about 50,000 villages and townships, reduced to about 38,000 by last year, mainly by mergers. Figures show each village or township has 16 party and government bodies with an average of 58 staff - about two to three times more than needed. Each also has 19 affiliated units, such as local branches of the Federation of Trade Unions, with more than 290 employees.

In a circular issued in January last year, Beijing called for widespread layoffs to reduce spending and an increase in the take-home pay of farmers, who support local governments through taxes.

Professor Zhao said at the local government level, the reform effort had created nothing but a paper trail, with subordinates fudging figures to keep their bosses happy.

He said a Hunan village cadre told him his village could send cadres home to make it appear staff numbers had been cut, but they would continue to receive a full salary.

'Our documents show that the number of staff has been reduced. But there have been no financial savings,' the official was quoted as saying in the report.

In Hebei province , the number of people on the government payroll climbed from 1.57 million in 1995 to 2.19 million in 2003. Most of them, or 1.67 million, are supported by county and township-level governments.

The report said the reform process had to be scrapped in favour of another model.