Plans to reform Guangdong's 1.5-million strong civil service have been written off as a gimmick by a disillusioned Shenzhen government official. 'It's all formality,' he said. 'It is connections, rather than competence, that determines who will stay and get promoted.' The provincial Government has said it is ending its 'iron rice bowl' protection for civil servants with reforms that involve putting all 1.5 million civil servants on contracts from this year. Civil service reform, which is likely to be repeated in other parts of the country, is the latest attempt by Beijing to build a cleaner and more efficient government structure. The central Government wants all its civil servants on contracts by 2005. Beijing and Xian already use the contract-based system on a limited scale. In Beijing, 41 per cent of the municipal departments introduced the reforms last year, with 37 per cent of the original staff signing contracts. But the Shenzhen official was less than enamoured. Ironically, he said many talented civil servants would leave as government positions paid lower salaries than the private sector. Zhang Tanqiu, director of the provincial personnel department, said the Government planned to increase civil service pensions to attract and retain better staff.