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Time for Government to Be Service-oriented
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By Xiong Wenzhao and Zhang Bufeng

Even with the effective establishment of China's socialist market economy, administrative power still controls the allocation of many resources. It's time to transform government functions and change the omnipotent government to an efficient service-oriented government.

The targets and contents need to be clarified in the further reform of the administration system.

The direction of our administrative reform is to build a service-oriented government under the rule of law.

To that end, we should further separate government from enterprises, public institutions and intermediate organizations in the market. Institutional restrictions should be strengthened to restrict government departments' direct intervention in market activities.

A modern government can only prove its value and legitimacy through providing quality public services. For all four aspects of government function - economic adjustment, market supervision, social management and public service - public service is at the core.

A vital goal of reform is to carry out administration under the rule of law. The legal system should be completed. Government behavior should be standardized according to law.

The country's various administrative institutional reforms in recent decades always fell into the vicious cycle of expansion following streamlining. The further reform of the administrative system should be carried out step by step in a well-planned way together with the country's economic and political reforms.

The reform of the administrative system mainly focuses on the layer of the legal system. It aims to eliminate institutional obstacles that affect social and economic development.

The establishment of organizations, including their size and composition, should be decided according to law. At present the key laws of organizations are stipulations in the Constitution, the Organization Law of the State Council and Organization Law of the Local People's Congresses and Local People's Governments. These laws have played a positive role in realizing administration according to law.

But the Organization Law of the State Council is too theoretical and the local organization law does not establish the functions of local government. This is the cause of the unclear delineation of authority between central and local governments as well as between different departments.

The laws should clarify the functions and responsibilities of the government and the relationship between governments at different levels. Also, the organization rules of the State Council, local governments, and offices under the State Council should further clarify the establishment of organizations, limitations on authorities, and the relationship between different bodies.

To carry out administrative reform according to law is the best way to avoid campaign-like institutional reforms. The appropriate establishment, change and termination of all administrative functions should be included in the legal procedures.

The key contents of the administrative reform should include the following:

First, the administrative decision-making system should be reformed. Traditional decision-making is quite peremptory as the power is highly concentrated. Thus democracy and public participation should be promoted to build a system with public policymaking.

An administrative decision-making procedure should be established. Legal procedures should be followed in making decisions. A public notification system should be adopted for important decisions that concern the public. Public hearings are necessary to increase public participation. A consultation system providing for the input of experts can provide theoretical and technical support for decision-making.

Second, administrative power should be redistributed. The relationship between the central government and local governments should be clarified. The central government's control over local governments should be enhanced to curb local protectionism and foster a unified market in the country.

The supervision mechanism between central and local governments should be thoroughgoing. Cooperation between the two should be established to balance regional development.

Third, a rational personnel system should be established. The existing permanent tenure for administrative personnel should be changed and performance assessment improved. The core of the personnel system reform is to implement the Civil Servant Law and improve civil servants' understanding of administration according to law.

Last but not least, the administrative procedure system should be enhanced. China's administrative procedure system was established with the Law on Administrative Punishment, the Administrative Permission Law and the Regulations on Open Government Information. But formalism and selective implementation are the unhealthy realities.

The essence of modern administration lies in decision-making through procedures as well as interaction and communication between those carrying out the administration and those affected by it. The legality and acceptability of administration will then be enhanced.

Note: Xiong Wenzhao is a professor with Central University of Nationalities and Zhang Bufeng is a PhD candidate at Renmin University of China

(China Daily May 31, 2007)

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