Ministers and vice-ministers who lost their jobs in last month's government downsizing are due to start a two-month training course to prepare for new posts created by Premier Zhu Rongji as special inspectors of state companies. The Economic Management Institute of Qinghua University, of which Mr Zhu is dean, will accept the first 20 of 70-80 students next week. The positions are aimed at giving the government more information and greater control over the 500 firms that account for more than half the assets in the state sector. Each inspector would be responsible for five companies, to investigate the accuracy of financial reports and evaluate their performance and that of senior managers, associate dean Chen Xiaoyue said at the China Business Summit. The inspectors will file reports directly to the State Economic and Trade Commission, the super-ministry created by Mr Zhu in his government reform. Mr Chen said the reports would not be shown to company chief executives. In addition, auditors of the 500 firms will in future report to the inspectors rather than company chief executives. The new posts reflect Mr Zhu's desire to obtain accurate information about the mainland's most important companies and his belief that present monitoring procedures are ineffective. The heads of the 500 firms have extensive power, controlling budgets of billions of yuan, employing tens of thousands of people and often enjoying ministerial or vice-ministerial status, with budgets and management rarely open to outside scrutiny. For inspectors to be able to work effectively, they must also be of equal rank to the company presidents and carry the weight of Mr Zhu's authority. World Bank China director Yukon Huang said 512 state firms accounted for 55 per cent of public-sector assets. He said between 6 and 25 per cent of the operating costs of these firms was spent on housing, education, health and other non-production operations. Divorcing firms from this burden of social costs was the most important way to make them internationally competitive, he said. Asked what role foreign firms would play in the reforms, Mr Huang said issues such as fair valuations so that officials were not accused of selling state assets cheaply to them, were yet to be resolved.