According to the 2011 annual report of China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), China's largest offshore oil producer, all executive directors of the board in CNOOC voluntarily gave up their salary, subsidy, welfare and annual performance bonus, as did three independent non-executive directors.
CNOOC's board of directors' willingness to give up millions of yuan shows a sense of responsibility, but it also reflects that Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are now shouldering too little responsibilities since most companies would be unwilling to take similar actions.
What does responsibility mean to SOE managers? Besides safe productions, there are two other elements.
First, different from privately owned enterprises, SOEs are public property and managers should improve their transparency.
For instance, SOE employees usually earn much more than their peers at other companies in the same sector. The public has the right to know how SOEs' salary system is made.
Also, SOEs have to explain their cost control efforts. Although some SOEs are listed companies, they have a long way to go in terms of transparency, causing dissatisfaction in society.
Second, SOE managers' responsibilities are not reflected in how much money SOEs have donated or how much salary the managers have given up.
Instead, they depend on how SOEs are treated as public property. This means SOE managers have to operate the companies well and the proportion of profits that SOEs have to hand in to the country must be increased.
For long, the government has taken a too small proportion of profits from SOEs, and their public service function is not reflected.
Take CNOOC for example. Despite being a Hong Kong-listed company, its sales revenue and net profit are to a large extent attributed to the monopolized resources that the country has given to it.
CNOOC's net profit in 2011 stood at 70.26 billion yuan ($11.15 billion). If 20- 30 percent of the profit was handed in to the government, 14 billion yuan to 20 billion yuan ($2.22 billion-$3.17 billion) more fiscal revenue can be used for social construction.
Giving up millions of yuan of salary is good to improve their images but truly responsible SOE managers shouldn't be obstacles for turning the profit over to the government. They should figure out the position of SOEs and themselves in society and deal with the relationship between SOEs and social welfare. In this way the contradiction between SOE development and public interests can be reconciled.
In terms of the SOE payment system and the proportion of profits that SOEs should hand in to the government, the final say does not belong to SOE managers but the government. In terms of SOE reform, government departments should take out more resolution and make more efforts.
This is an edited excerpt of an article by Kuang Xianming, a research fellow at the Hainan-based China Institute for Reform and Development, published in The Beijing News
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