TIME TO SAY GOODBYE: People take photos at the front gate of the Ministry of Railways, after learning that the ministry is to be dismantled (WANG SHEN)
The State Council, China's cabinet, unveiled a new plan to further carry on its institutional reform and transformation of government functions during the First Session of the 12th National People's Congress (NPC), the country's top legislature. The plan is the country's seventh restructuring attempt in the past three decades. The number of ministries under the State Council will be cut to 25 from the current 27, while several departments and agencies will be reorganized.
"The most important task of the reforms is to transform and streamline government functions, with a special focus on handing down power to the market and to society and reducing government intervention on micro issues," said State Councilor Ma Kai when deliberating the plan to the legislative body.
According to the plan, the Ministry of Railways (MOR), which has long been at the center of controversy for being both a policymaker and a service provider, will be broken up into administrative and commercial arms—namely the State Railway Administration and the China Railway Corp. The MOR has long been criticized for its bureaucracy and poor services.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) and the National Population and Family Planning Commission will be merged into a new organ combining their functions.
The status of the existing State Food and Drug Administration will be elevated to a general administration in order to improve food and drug safety, a top concern among the public.
The country's top oceanic administration will be restructured to bring its maritime law enforcement units, currently scattered throughout different ministries and departments, under unified management.
The National Energy Administration (NEA) will be restructured to streamline the administrative and regulatory systems of the energy sector. The new NEA will incorporate the functions of the State Electricity Regulatory Commission, which will be dissolved.
Two media regulators—the General Administration of Press and Publication and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television—will be merged into a single entity, a move meant to promote the country's cultural institutions at home and abroad.
"In all, 18 organizations under the State Council are involved in this round of reform and will adjust their functions accordingly," said Wang Feng, Vice Minister of the State Commission Office for Public Sector Reform.
The transformation of government functions is the core of the reform, said Wang.
"In the past, when people talked about China's institutional reform, they would only think of merging, dismantling or dissolving departments. That's a misunderstanding," he said. "Those are only measures and the ultimate goal is to transform government functions."
Ma also made this point quite clear when deliberating the plan to lawmakers during the annual session of the parliament.
"The cabinet reorganization plan aims to create an efficient and law-based government with a clear division of power, reasonable distribution of labor and well-defined responsibilities," said Ma.
Having gone through restructuring six times, the State Council has established a framework that meets the needs of market economy but still has notable shortcomings, he said. "Departments of the State Council are now focusing too much on micro issues. We should attend to our duties and not meddle in what is not our business," Ma said.
The Central Government is troubled by the duplication of functions, overlapping management, low efficiency and bureaucracy, while supervision over administrative power is lacking, said Ma, adding that this has somewhat led to corruption and dereliction of duty. "Some departments have more power than necessary, while in some aspects of governance, they are not in a position to act," Ma said.
While delivering his last government work report to the 12th NPC on March 5, Premier Wen Jiabao acknowledged that the transformation of government functions has not been fully carried out and some government departments are prone to corruption.