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Officials Face New Challenges
For many years, officials in China were selected and appointed in a set way. Leaders and higher-level departments decided on choices for promotion; hence the practice of seeking leading posts through an accumulation of working years or personal relationships. This resulted in the emergence of unhealthy tendencies and corruption in official appointment procedures, which caused great discontent among the majority of people. To alter this situation, China has begun to reform its Party and government official selection and appointment system. Competing for leading posts has been practiced at many levels, and incompetent officials are removed.

The Party and government leading official system reform is an important part of China’s political system reform. The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) has adopted effective measures to accelerate the reform, and has made much headway in building a democratic system, improving the checking system for leading officials, strengthening supervision and exchanging leading officials among different units and localities. Laws and regulations, such as the Provisional Regulations on the Selection and Appointment of Party and Government Leading Officials, have been implemented, and work on selecting and appointing leading officials has been regulated. These regulations have helped create favorable conditions for the promotion of outstanding personnel and have checked, to some extent, malpractices and corruption in the selection of leading officials.

Competing for Leading Posts

"I am running for the post of deputy director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau. My competitive edge lies in..."

This speech by Xu Jinhui, a division director of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP), demonstrates the practice of appointing leading department officials through competition in the SPP. Xu was one of 86 candidates competing for 16 leading posts in the SPP, including deputy director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, director of the Functionary Crime Prevention Department, and director of the Complaints Department.

After the presentation, candidates underwent an oral examination, answering challenging questions raised by the chief examiner, which were aimed at assessing their ability in comprehensive analysis and decision-making, and their professional knowledge. Other judges evaluated and gave marks for each candidate’s presentation and performance in the oral examination. Observers voted for whoever they thought was competent.

"It’s really an exciting competition," said Xu Haifa, assistant director of SPP’s Anti-Corruption Bureau. He noted that the competitive mechanism introduced by the SPP has won much support. "The practice that departmental directors take up their posts through competition has brought a breath of fresh air into the procuratorate, blowing away stagnant work styles in various departments and awakening the initiatives of staff." Xu believes that the reform will spur procuratorial units to improve their work efficiency, and play a greater role in building a socialist China ruled by law.

Lei Dongsheng, a 30-year-old Master of Law, with no connections, became the youngest division director in the Ministry of Public Security last May through competition. "Competing for leading posts makes official promotion more open and transparent," Lei said.

Beijing, capital of China, has made a new breakthrough in selecting leading officials in an open manner. At an open selection of leading officials at bureau level held earlier this year, the Beijing municipal government for the first time withdrew the condition that candidates should have registered permanent residence in Beijing. This move is designed to find and recruit outstanding personnel in other areas.

Meng Linghua, deputy director of the Beijing Office for the Open Selection of Leading Officials, has been involved in such activities on four occasions since 1995. All changes in the activities are well within his memory.

Meng said that having a registered permanent Beijing residence was a prerequisite for candidates in the open leading official selection campaign held in 1995 and 1997 by the municipal government. One year later, this long-standing solid block of ice began to melt. At the open leading official selection campaign in August 1998, several people were granted the privilege of being free of the Beijing residence restriction. Among them were people who had returned from overseas and held a Doctorate or Master’s Degree, accounting personnel with a senior professional title, and senior technical professionals who had gained considerable fame, both at home and abroad. The municipal government also made a decision that the spouses of the winners, as well as their children under 18, could have a Beijing domicile.

This so-called "preferential policy" was considered an initial trial relaxation of the rigid residence policy. As a result, 12 officials entered Beijing from other provinces. Also, that year, the level of educational attainments of candidates increased noticeably. Those with a postgraduate or above educational background made up 38 percent, and those with senior professional titles 49 percent.

In this year’s official selection campaign, Beijing opened its eyes to the whole country, out of practical considerations. Beijing lacks certain types of professionals, including chief economists, chief accountants and chief engineers, who are vital to many important departments and units. In the 1997 selection, a post was left vacant due to a lack of qualified candidates.

With the prerequisite of having a Beijing residence withdrawn, 78 people came to Beijing from other parts of the country to compete for a leading post in the capital. Altogether, 516 qualified candidates competed for 39 posts. Some of them were central government organs, some from Beijing municipal government institutions, and others from the other 30 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions on China’s mainland. Of them, 321 candidates had a postgraduate or above education, accounting for 62 percent of the total, 56, or 10.8 percent, had a Ph. d., and 328 had senior professional titles, totaling 65.3 percent.

The practice of selecting leading officials conforms to reforms toward a market economy, said an official, and its ultimate goal is to do away with defects of the old official selection and promotional system, and bring about the effective and optimized allocation of human resources. Breaking the restriction from domicile administration is conducive to unleashing pent-up human and talent resources to the maximum. Only when outstanding people are put in suitable leading positions can the talent of every individual be genuinely turned into good account.

Featuring openness, equality, competition and selection of the best person, competition for leading posts involves open solicitation of candidates, written and oral examinations, discussions and assessment by higher authorities. Choices selected via competition will then be appointed to leading posts according to set procedures. The competitive method aims to reform and improve traditional official selection and appointment systems.

The practice of competing for leading posts emerged along with the implementation of the public servant system. Since the Provisional Regulations on Government Public Servants was promulgated in August 1993, central government organs and Party, government and mass organizations in various provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions have introduced this practice to a varying extent. By April this year, nearly 50,000 institutions in 29 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions held competitions for leading posts—posts open to competition totaled 350,000, and more than 800,000 officials and staff of government institutions at various levels participated.

The practice first began at prefectural and county level institutions, and has been popularized not only at the town and township levels, but also in central government organs. Since the institutional restructuring of the Central Government in 1998, some 100 departmental leading posts and more than 800 divisional level posts in more than 20 ministries, commissions and bureaus under the State Council have been subject to competition. Recently, the Organizational Department of the CPC Central Committee, the Ministry of Personnel, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation, the State Administration of Taxation, and the State Family Planning Commission have also opened some department and division level leading posts for competition.

The practice has been intensified in local governments. In Guangdong Province, for instance, 2,490 employees of 46 provincial government departments have run for 1,235 divisional level leading posts. Of them, 1,136 young staff members, who have both ability and political integrity, have been promoted to the post of division director or deputy director. The General Office of the Shanxi provincial government has subjected all its divisional leading posts to competition, with 43 successful candidates being appointed. By the end of April this year, there were more than 179,000 divisional (county) and sectional level leading posts nationwide, open to competition.

The practice has brought about encouraging changes. Those who sought promotion through connections or with money have been rejected, and under-the-counter operations been abolished. Various localities have made public the posts for competition, requirements for each post, competition procedures, examination scores and competition results, which are also subject to supervision by discipline inspection and supervisory departments. Competing for posts has evolved from a personnel means targeting government employees in the initial stages of the public servant system, to a regular mechanism for selecting and recruiting qualified personnel. The competitive scope has expanded from medium-level leading posts to non-leading and higher leading posts.

"The former practice of seeking promotion through accumulation of work years or personal relations is now impossible," said some government employees. "Everyone must now rely on his or her own qualifications and ability, and must be steadfast in their work. Whoever wants to get promoted must study and work hard and improve competence."

Ready to Take a Lower or Higher Post

In the past, when a person became a leading official, they remained in this position throughout their lifetime. Those who were later deemed incompetent or committed mistakes would be transferred to other departments or localities, and would continue to be a leading official. But now, the situation has totally changed. Incompetent leading officials and those who have made serious mistakes will be dismissed from office.

Since 1995, the posts of 10,109 incompetent leading officials at and above the division level, have been changed. They include 366 department and bureau level officials, and more than 63,000 sectional and lower level officials. They have been either appointed to non-leading or lower posts, or dismissed from government institutions.

Establishing a mechanism wherein officials are ready to accept a higher or lower post is the key to the reform of the personnel system relating to officials. But the difficulty lies in having officials accept a lower post.

This dilemma has resulted from both historical and practical factors. For a long time, a set social mentality thinks “a leading official only leaves his or her post after retirement, otherwise, he or she must have committed some mistakes.” This demonstrates that besides the rigid bar of retirement age, the personnel system relating to officials lacks a policy basis and standards for assessing what type of officials should be reduced to a lower rank. There is also a lack of operational implementation methods for when and how they are demoted in rank. Therefore, it is difficult to get promoted to a higher post, but even more difficult to be reduced to, or accept, a lower post.

Improving the checking system for leading officials to make it possible for incompetent officials to be dismissed from their positions is a key link in the reform of the personnel system relating to officials. The Fourth Plenary Session of the 14th CPC Central Committee in 1994 proposed that posts of incompetent officials must be adjusted resolutely, and that it should become a system under which officials should be ready to take a lower, as well as a higher post. The CPC Central Committee and its Organization Department issued the Provisional Regulations on the Selection and Appointment of Party and Government Leading Officials and the Interim Regulations on Assessment of Party and Government Leading Officials, both providing basic standards dealing with incompetent officials.

Various localities have explored some effective methods in the following aspects:

Assessment system. Leaders at various levels are evaluated in an annual, mid-tenure and end-tenure assessment, through which incompetent officials are defined and dealt with.

Official probation system. This method makes it convenient to timely remove incompetent officials during the initial period of their tenure. Since the system was introduced in 1998 in Xiangfan City, Hubei Province, 39 of the 9,923 newly appointed officials have been removed from their probationary posts, and the probationary period has been prolonged for 49 officials.

System of elimination. Liaoning, Jilin, Fujian and Hubei provinces and Chongqing Municipality have introduced a unified evaluation of local officials. Those ranking at the bottom of the rating system are eliminated. In Changchun City, Jilin, 79 municipal government officials, who ranked last in the 1998 annual assessment, were dismissed from office, reduced to a lower post, discharged from public employment or told to transfer to other organizations within a set period of time.

Post suspension system. Under the system, unqualified leading officials are suspended from their posts. They will study and receive training while doing other temporary jobs during the suspension period, which normally lasts one to two years. When the suspension period expires, those who have performed well will be appointed to new leading posts according to their original rank, while those who have performed indifferently or poorly will be appointed to a lower post or removed from office. Of the 143 officials suspended from leading posts in Cangzhou City, Hebei Province, 27 have been reduced to lower ranks or appointed to non-leading posts, and eight have been removed from office.

System for appointment under contract. Under this system, leading officials compete for posts and are appointed under contract. At the expiration of their tenure of office, those deemed qualified will have their appointment contract extended. In Baiyun District, Guangzhou City, 22 officials have been eliminated from leading posts due to average performance, incompetence and failure to fulfill given tasks.

The reform has broken traditions relating to leading officials, and a system wherein officials are ready to take a lower, as well as a higher post, has been taking shape.

Strengthened Supervision

It is imperative to strengthen supervision over leading officials. Leading officials of higher authorities should acquaint themselves with the ideological state and performance of lower-ranking officials by talking to them often, and should timely remind them to take preventive measures against any wrongdoings, especially those facing a change in post, showing a tendency to commit mistakes, or involved in public complaints concerning honest administration. This should become a supervisory institution.

Those, whose problems do not deserve disciplinary punishment, should be given a warning as well as criticism and education, and asked to right their wrongs within a prescribed period of time. As for those who commit serious wrongdoings and fail to remedy them, their posts will be changed.

Public supervisory means should be expanded. First, choices of Party and government leading officials at deputy bureau director level should be publicized through the press or other media, so as to receive public supervision. Second, a system for auditing financial responsibilities of leading officials during their tenure of office should be implemented, with auditing results taken as a major basis for their appointment. Third, central organization departments should regularly inspect local work relating to leading official selection and appointments. Fourth, letters of complaint and visits should be dealt with seriously. The leading officials involved should be asked to report their wrongdoings honestly and accurately to Party organizations at various levels. Those who hide the facts will be severely punished.

Different localities have done a lot of work in strengthening supervision over official selection and appointment. Organization departments at various levels have set up special telephone numbers for public complaints, and assigned special personnel to receive visits and deal with complaints.

Since early last year, the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee has sent two inspection groups to check work relating to official selection and appointment in 11 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, and in six central government ministries and commissions.

Some localities have introduced a fault responsibility system concerning official appointment. All those involved in recommending, evaluating and making decisions to appoint an official will bear respective responsibilities.

Over the past four years, China has investigated 1,200 cases involving Party discipline violations, and dealt with 353 discipline violating officials at county and beyond.

(Beijing Review 09/05/2001)

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