The State Council, or China's cabinet, will begin its seventh restructuring attempt in the past three decades to curb red tape and reduce administrative intervention in the market and social issues.
The number of ministries under the State Council will reduce from 27 to 25 while several departments and agencies are reorganized, according to a plan of institutional restructuring and functional transformation of the State Council, submitted to the national legislative session Sunday.
Having gone through restructuring for six times, "the State Council has established a framework that met the needs of socialist market economy but it still has notable shortcomings," said Ma Kai, state councilor, when deliberating the plan at the session.
"Some departments have power bigger than necessary while in some aspects of governance they are not in place to act," Ma said.
The central government is troubled by duplication of functions, overlapping management, low efficiency and bureaucracy while supervision on administrative power is not fully in place, he said, adding that this has somewhat facilitated corruption and breach of duty. ' The most important task of the restructuring plan is to transform and streamline the government functions, he said.
According to the plan, the Ministry of Railways, long in the center of controversy for being both railway service provider and watchdog, will be dissolved into administrative and commercial arms.
Wang Yiming, deputy head of the Academy of Macroeconomic Research under the National Development and Reform Commission, hailed the move a "landmark."
"It means the country removes the last 'stronghold' in the way of reforming the industry from planned economy to market economy," Wang said. "It will open another door for financing and management of the railway sector."
Sheng Guangzu, current minister of railways, told Xinhua earlier that he supported the restructuring.
"I don't care whether I would be the last minister of railways. What matters is the need of the country," he said.
"Self-reform is always difficult. Behind every department there is huge vested interest," said Chi Fulin, director of the China Institute for Reform and Development and a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
However, it has to be done for the current administrative system and the old way of governance do not catch up with the changes in reality and have become a center of conflicts, Chi said.
Other ministries and commissions to go through reshuffle are the Health Ministry and the National Population and Family Planning Commission, which will be merged into a new National Health and Family Planning Commission.
The status of the existing State Administration of Food and Drug will be elevated to a general administration in order to improve food and drug safety.
The country's top oceanic administration will be restructured to bring its maritime law enforcement forces, currently scattered in different ministries, under the unified management of one single administration.
The National Energy Administration will be restructured to streamline administrative and regulatory system of the energy sector.
Also, two media regulators, the General Administration of Press and Publication and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, will be merged into one to oversee the country's press, publication, radio, film and television sectors.
BALANCE AMONG GOVERNMENT, MARKET, SOCIETY
The cabinet reorganization plan aims to build an efficient and law-based government with clear division of power, reasonable distribution of labor, and well-defined responsibility, Ma told lawmakers.
"Departments of the State Council are now focusing too much on micro issues. We should attend to our duties and must not meddle in what is not in our business," the report said.
The reform plan came amid public calls to boost government transparency and efficiency in government operations.
While delivering his last government work report on Tuesday to China's top legislature, Premier Wen Jiabao acknowledged the transformation of government functions has not been fully carried out with some government departments prone to corruption, saying the central government is "keenly aware that we still face many difficulties and problems" in the economic and social development.
Wen vowed to continue transforming government functions, separate government administration from the management of enterprises, state assets, public institutions and social organizations to build a "well-structured, clean, efficient and service-oriented government".
In the plan, the State Council pledged to ensure the market's fundamental role in allocating resources and let social organizations play a better role in managing social issues.
In this regard, the restructuring plan says that the government will:
-- cut, reduce or simplify the review and approval of investment projects to minimize the inconvenience and high costs involved when enterprises and individuals are trying to obtain the services they require and boost their independence to start a business or make an investment;
-- separate industrial associations and chambers of commerce from administrative departments, and introduce a competitive mechanism with multiple associations to the same industry to boost their independence and vitality;
-- integrate identical or similar institutional functions into a sole government department, such as the registry of housing, forest, grassland and land, which currently belongs to different government agencies;
-- break industrial monopoly and administrative hurdles that hamper the circulation of goods and service, and maintain an open and unified domestic market to ensure fairness and orderly competition;
-- increase the government procurement of services and give fair treatment to social organizations in supplying medical care, health, education, culture and community services.