Michael Martina and Sui-Lee Wee Beijing
CHINA unveiled a government restructuring plan yesterday, cutting cabinet-level entities by two and dissolving its powerful railways ministry, as the country’s new leaders look to boost efficiency and combat corruption.
The reforms mark the biggest reduction in ministries since 1998 when then-premier Zhu Rongji oversaw the overhaul of the State Council.
The government would combine the Health Ministry and the Family Planning Commission that controls the controversial one-child policy, and strengthen the powers of the food and pharmaceutical regulators, it said in a report at the annual meeting of parliament.
“Currently, numerous operational, organisational and division of labour problems exist in State Council ministries,” State Council secretary-general Ma Kai said. “Breach of duty, using positions for personal gain and corruption” under the structure had not been effectively constrained, he said.
China’s new president, Xi Jinping, and premier designate Li Keqiang assume their new roles after the annual congress concludes this week.
The railways ministry and Family Planning Commission have been unpopular, and their restructuring was widely expected.
The railways ministry has faced numerous problems over the past few years, including heavy debts from funding new high-speed lines, waste and fraud.
Railways planning will now be co-ordinated under the broader transport ministry. The government has pledged to open the rail industry to private investment on an unprecedented scale.
Meanwhile, family planning officials have been known to compel women to have abortions as it strives to meet birthrate targets.
High profile cases have sparked national fury, such as when a woman was forced to abort her seven-month pregnancy last year.
Some analysts have said the merger of the health and family planning agencies would be a blow to the political base needed to maintain the one-child policy, which many demographers say should be relaxed.
The report said family planning must continue “on the basis of stable and low birth rates”, but policies would be “improved”. China’s one-child policy is still generally enforced, although there are a number of family situations that are exempt from the rule. – Reuters