The following is an account of (including some quotes from) a Xinhua article, republished by Enorth (Tianjin).
“Local government reform is an issue of our revolution that involves a broad range of interests in their depths.” Chief state councillor Li Keqiang said in a video and telephone conference on local government functional transformation and institutional reform held the other day that if the reform of central government is part one, the reform of local government is part two. It needed to be considered with all things taken into consideration, and thought about with thorough knowledge, so as to write a good complete chapter of government reform.
Experts have pointed out that in previous cases of government functional transformation and institutional reform, there had been “a lot of action at the top, but many discounts [on the promises] further down”. The new round of streamlining administration and delegating powers to the lower levels (简政放权) has now entered its key phase of comprehensive deepening, and if good policies [or guidelines] can be truly implemented will prove in the difficulties and focal points of government functional transformation and institutional reform.
Li is also quoted as saying that government reform was meant to facilitate government-market relations, government-society relations and relations between the center and localities to bring the market more fully into play. Overcoming the challenges of deepening reform from within government at the local levels would constitute the last mile of streamlining administration and delegating powers to the lower levels, and provide the dividends of reform (改革红利) all the more effectively.
The article also quotes a Development Research Center of the State Council researcher, Zhang Liqun (张立群), as saying that streamlining administration and delegating powers to the lower levels – a move for decentralisation, reduction of administrative examination and approval, and stimulation of the private sector’s vitality – was showing initial effects.
The state council had decentralized more than 300 items of administrative examination and approval, the article says, and during that time, the number of company registrations had risen by 25 percent. Among these, the number of private-enterprise (民营企业) and individual-enterprise (个体企业) registrations had risen by 37 percent. These had grown more rapidly than the rate of government investment.
Li Keqiang seems to put the onus of success flatly on the local or regional governments, describing the devolution of of responsibilities as the fulfilled task of the central government. He was seconded by Wang Yukai, a Chinese Academy of Governance professor, who repeated Li’s point that the local levels needed to take responsibility, adding that the central and local government needed to be consistent (上下一贯), and that they needed to guarantee that government decrees went unimpeded (政令畅通).
Both the calamities [or vicious cycles] of “easing once, chaos comes” and “administering once, death comes” needed to be avoided, Li told the conference – his wording suggests that it wouldn’t be the first time that a balance of easing without losing control (疏而不漏) could be lost.
The conference is portrayed as a concert, with Li and the Academics taking turns in plowing through local conscience, reminding the object of their speeches that more than nintety percent of civil servants and 85 percent of government finance (or public economy?) were, in the end, local.
Only the second-last paragraph contains the remarks of a local official – but he does have the last word in the article. Ma Wenda (马文达), head of a health supervision bureau in Guyuan, Ningxia, told the conference that in his place, 48 people had to supervise 1,264 food-and-catering-related companies, 560 public places, 91 medical facilities and 176 schools. Supervising all these scattered places was not easy.
Li Keqiang has the final word: Some authorities had become rather big on the surface, but small further down, like ostriches. Everywhere, efforts needed to be made to strengthen what needed to be strengthened, weaken what needed to be weakened, and above all strengthen the grassroots. Upper levels needed to trim fat, and grassroot levels needed to be strengthened.