A nationwide Ministry of Civil Affairs exercise to trim bloated grass-roots bureaucracies has merged 864 towns and villages in the first three-quarters of the year, making 56,400 cadres redundant. Between 1998, when the exercise was launched, and the end of September, 8,264 townships have been dissolved or merged, reducing the number from 46,400 to 38,136, according to Xinhua figures. Sun Yat-sen University politics professor Xiao Bin said the exercise should be recognised for its efforts to streamline government, improve efficiency and reduce the financial burden on farmers, but he added its efficacy was limited because it did not address the problem at its root. 'What I am worried about is that this is not such a simple problem. China has a five-tier administration compared to the United States' three tiers, and each level has a big party and government structure, so it is a structural problem,' he said. Professor Xiao related the experience of Shishi town in Fujian province , which 16 years ago cut its government and party structure down to size but has since turned full circle. 'It has a burgeoning bureaucracy again because there were no complementary changes at other levels of government,' he said, adding that Shishi had to resurrect axed departments so they could deal with corresponding departments at the provincial level. 'We can start the reform at grass-root levels, but there needs to be an overall plan for structural and systemic changes,' the professor said. Although the process appeared to be very slow, it was questionable whether entire towns could be shut down as cadres affected by the dissolution or mergers of departments had to be reassigned, Professor Xiao said. The exercise this year closed 17,280 organisations and departments and resulted in savings of 864 million yuan.