China's top economic planner, the National Development and Reform Commission, is under fire after its functions were expanded rather than streamlined in a cabinet overhaul, while senior officials vowed it would gradually decentralise its powers of administrative approval.
Besides absorbing the population policy and planning functions of the former Population and Family Planning Commission, the NDRC tightened its regulatory grip on the power market, with the State Electricity Regulatory Commission to be folded into the National Energy Administration, an NDRC affiliate.
Aimed at improving the efficiency of the electricity sector and pricing reforms, the move consolidates the NDRC's control over the whole energy spectrum, including the electricity, oil, natural gas, nuclear and renewable energy sectors.
Such an outcome disappointed some economists, who said the latest cabinet restructuring had made the NDRC more like a mini State Council rather than reducing its meddling in the market, let alone breaking up the vested interests that obstruct radical reforms.
Independent economist Andy Xie told Sohu.com  the government revamp meant nothing if the NDRC was not restructured, adding that sometimes a single department or agency under the commission could be more powerful than a ministry.
Besides drawing up macroeconomic policies, the commission is also responsible for industrial and regional planning and approving investment plans and single construction projects, among other functions.
One microblogger said the price-setting NDRC had done nothing during its decade-long history except for "raising prices, defending price increases and blocking reform".
But Wang Feng, from the Communist Party office involved in drafting the restructuring proposal, spoke in defence of the NDRC yesterday, saying it played a crucial role in balancing regional differences and maintaining stable and co-ordinated economic growth for a vast nation.
"I've heard complaints about the NDRC being overly powerful, mainly due to its power to grant approvals for investments," Wang said in Beijing. However, he said the NDRC's importance needed to be fully recognised, arguing that only the central government could come up with effective measures when faced with a sudden economic crisis.
He said the NDRC would be asked to hand its powers of administrative approval to local governments and urged to make more efforts than other agencies to reduce its functions.
"The NDRC really needs to sort out its administrative approval powers carefully and decide which to give to local governments and which to abolish," Wang said.
Du Ying, an NDRC deputy director, vowed on Sunday that the commission would endeavour to reduce its power over single projects, and instead focus on macroeconomic regulation, The Beijing News reported yesterday. "Let the market decide what it can decide, and we'll take care of the rest," Du said.
But Professor Zhu Lijia , from the Chinese Academy of Governance, said even if there was a thorough restructuring of institutions, it did not necessarily mean the work of government would improve.