National People's Congress

China's scandal-hit railways ministry to be axed in government revamp

Cabinet moves to streamline government, but reforms fall short of more radical proposals such as for energy and culture super-ministries

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 March, 2013, 8:29am

The State Council yesterday unveiled its latest effort to build a smaller, more efficient government, scrapping the powerful Railways Ministry and reducing the number of cabinet-level agencies to 25 from 27.

The ministry, which survived the last cabinet overhaul in 2008 only to become mired in scandal, would have its responsibilities split between the Transport Ministry and a new China Railways Corporation, State Council secretary general Ma Kai told the National People's Congress in Beijing.

The National Population and Family Planning Commission - executor of the one-child policy - was also marked for dismantling, with most of its portfolio going to a ministry-level health agency.

In a move that could have implications for China's maritime disputes, the National Oceanic Administration would be given consolidated control over the numerous agencies that now oversee coastal security.

But the changes fell short of some of the more dramatic overhauls pushed by reform advocates in recent years. There were no proposals for overarching energy and culture ministries.

Instead, control of print and broadcast media would be consolidated into one agency and the State Electricity Regulatory Commission would be folded into the National Energy Administration.

The Communist Party's new leadership under incoming president Xi Jinping has been pushing the restructuring as part of an effort to cut down on bureaucracy and improve people's livelihoods. Premier-to-be Li Keqiang spearheaded the last round five years ago.

The State Council, or cabinet, also proposed that ministries should minimise and decentralise the review and approval process for investment projects and give non-governmental organisations more freedom to address social issues.

Li Jiang, party secretary of the Hunan Provincial People's Congress' Standing Committee and a National People's Congress delegate, said he had hoped for a more radical streamlining plan.

He suggested setting up an independent new agency to plan and implement further reform.

"It's very difficult for a central government body, which has powers in allocating resources and approving certain matters, to bring forward a plan to reform itself," he said.

Professor Wang Yukai, of the National School of Administration, said there was still room for reform. He cited the merger of the General Administration of Press and Publication and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television as an example. "There could be a super culture ministry when conditions are ripe," he said.

Wang Feng, deputy director of the State Commission Office for Public Sector Reform, said the National Development and Reform Commission, the State Council's policymaking arm, "really needs to sort out its administrative approval powers carefully and decide which to give to local governments and which to abolish".