China announces shake-up of ministries

People’s congress rubber-stamps decision to abolish corruption-plagued rail ministry

Soldiers marching outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where a session of the National People’s Congress is being held. Photograph: Feng Li/Getty Images

Soldiers marching outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where a session of the National People’s Congress is being held. Photograph: Feng Li/Getty Images

 


China’s parliament has announced that it plans to trim back government ministries, including shutting the powerful but corruption-plagued rail ministry and merging broadcast and print media censorship into one streamlined body.

Other affected ministries include the health ministry and the family planning commission, which will be merged, and the food watchdog, which is being elevated to ministry status, state news agency Xinhua reported.


Reduction in ministries
The plans to cut the number of ministries from 27 to 25 were formulated by the State Council, China’s cabinet, and presented to China’s annual rubberstamp parliament, the National People’s Congress, currently meeting in Beijing.

The reshuffle – the seventh in three decades – reflects the aims laid out during the congress by China’s new leadership of trimming red tape and doing more to improve quality of life for China’s increasingly prosperous society.

“The State Council has established a framework that meets the needs of the socialist market economy but still has notable shortcomings,” State Councillor Ma Kai said during the session.

“Some departments have more power than necessary, while in some aspects of governance they are not in a position to act.”

Mr Ma added that overlapping government functions led to bureaucrats shifting their responsibilities elsewhere.

The railways ministry operates China’s rail network but is also the regulator of the industry. It has become a hotbed of corruption, especially with the construction of China’s network of high-speed rail throwing up so many opportunities.

In February 2011, then rail minister Liu Zhijun was investigated for graft and subsequently expelled from the Communist Party. He is currently awaiting trial.

Rail operations such as building railway and managing freight and passenger services will be carried out by a newly created China Railway Corp, while regulatory issues such as managing safety standards will come under the ministry of transport.

The family planning commission, which enforces the one-child policy of population control, is also a powerful bureaucracy. It is being merged with the health ministry, which could be a sign that the government is preparing to step up its re-evaluation of the unpopular policy.


Maritime merger
Various bureaucracies dealing with fisheries and maritime law will be merged into one administration, which could help China to better push its claims to disputed territories in the East and South China seas.

Two bureaucracies responsible for controlling and censoring the media, the General Administration of Press and Publication and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, will be merged.