China is to effectively abolish its scandal-plagued Ministry of Railways as part of a sweep of government reforms aimed at tackling inefficiency and corruption, a top official told parliament yesterday.
The changes include bolstering a maritime body as China engages in island disputes with its neighbors and giving an economic development body more say over the one-child policy, as the country faces a shrinking labor pool.
“The administrative system in effect still has many areas not suited to the demands of new circumstances and duties,” Chinese State Council secretary-general Ma Kai (馬凱) told the National People’s Congress at its annual gathering in Beijing, a copy of his speech showed.
Inadequate supervision had led to “work left undone or done messily, abuse of power and corruption,” he said, adding that some areas were insufficiently managed while others had “too many cooks in the kitchen.”
However, analysts expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the moves.
David Goodman, a China politics expert at the University of Sydney, said that reorganization alone could not stamp out corruption.
“They are very serious reforms, but they are not going to attack that question of making officials more accountable and more responsible,” he said.
Since taking office at the head of the Chinese Communist Party in November last year, China’s incoming leadership has issued a barrage of promises to adopt humble ways and fight corruption, while state media have highlighted individual scandals.
However, any broad anti-graft measures would require taking on powerful vested interests and the Xinhua news agency said the State Council had restructured the government seven times in 30 years.
Beijing will switch control of the railway ministry’s administrative functions to the Chinese Ministry of Transport and hand its commercial functions to a new China Railway Corporation.
The rail system — which has cost hundreds of billions of dollars — has been one of China’s flagship development projects in recent years and the country now boasts the world’s largest high-speed network.
However, the expansion has seen a series of scandals and widespread allegations of corruption, with former Chinese minister of railways Liu Zhijun (劉志軍), who was sacked in 2011, now awaiting trial on graft charges.
In July 2011, a high-speed crash in the eastern city of Wenzhou killed at least 40 people, sparking a torrent of public criticism that authorities compromised safety in their rush to expand the network.
Meanwhile, the body that oversees China’s one-child policy will be merged with the Chinese Ministry of Health to form a new body, and nationwide population policy will now be handled by the National Development and Reform Commission, an economic planner.
The move comes after China saw the first drop in its labor pool in decades — a consequence of the restrictions imposed on families in the late 1970s that now threaten to impact the country’s future growth.
However, outgoing Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) told parliament a week ago that the policy would be maintained this year.
China will also bring its maritime law enforcement bodies under a single organization, allowing greater coordination as the country is embroiled in a bitter row with Taiwan and Japan the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) in the East China Sea, which Japan calls the Senkakus.
The Chinese State Oceanic Administration, which runs marine surveillance, will take over management of the coast guard from the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, fisheries patrols from the Ministry of Agriculture and also assume customs’ marine anti-smuggling functions.
Beijing is also at odds with several Southeast Asian countries over islands in the South China Sea.
Goodman called the reforms sensible efforts to better address pressing issues, saying they pointed to the government seeking a “more sophisticated, more effective way of doing things.”
However, the restructuring would only bring about “government efficiency within the limits of what is possible,” he said. “It doesn’t stop people behaving badly.”