The Orders From Zhongnanhai
When Zhang Baoqing (张保庆) retired from his position as deputy minister at the Ministry of Education in China, he was interviewed by China Youth Daily (November 14, 2005). From that interview, this particular piece of Q&A stood out:
Reporter: I have read your poetry collections. Over the last ten years, your poetry seemed to contain a strand of sadness and anxiety. Here are the most memorable lines: "The worst can only be celery and yam; it is either personal abjectness or national worries."
Zhang: Insofar as my experience of growing up went, I had no great background and I had no grand strategy. It was the Party which nurtured me. I am deeply grateful to our Party and our nation. And that is why I have this deep sense of worry.
The biggest problem that China faces is that the policies are not being implemented. The policies decided in Zhongnanhai sometimes do not get out of Zhongnanhai. For example, the matter of solving the loan problems for hardship students was simply ignored by the lower echelons. If even such a policy is not implemented, what about anything else?
This led to an opinion piece by Tan Xiongwei (谭雄伟) titled: Why do the policies of the central government sometimes fail to make it out of Zhongnanhai? also published at China Youth Daily (November 17, 2005)
When the recently retired deputy minister of education Zhang Baoqing was interviewed, he sighed and said: "The biggest problem that China faces is that the policies are not being implemented. The policies decided in Zhongnanhai sometimes do not get out of Zhongnanhai. For example, the matter of solving the loan problems for hardship students was simply ignored by the lower echelons. If even such a policy is not implemented, what about anything else?"
"The policies decided in Zhongnanhai sometimes do not get out of Zhongnanhai." This symbolically illustrates the phenomenon of policies not being implemented. These things happen frequently enough. For example, during the macroscopic adjustments, no matter how orders came down from the central government, there are always some local leaders which either resist or only go through the motions in a perfunctory manner.
When the State Council issued the two documents on improving safety at coal mines, there followed a major incident in Luliang City (Shanxi province) at a coal mine which had been ordered to shut down but re-started operations illegally. The National Safety Production Supervision Department director Li Yizhong said in grief: "This shows that orders are not carried out and bans are being defied, to the point of being intolerable." There is a common saying among people that gives a lively illustration -- "The policies of the central government are like the clear blue sky; when they get to the district level, some clouds appear; when they get to the county level, it starts to rain; when it gets to the town level, people are drowning."
Why are the decisions of the central government not being effectively carried out? Some people think that it is because the lower ranks do not understand the policies and so they found it difficult to implement. Some people think that there are too many levels in government, and so the orders and decisions of the central government have lost their effectiveness with the base level. There are other people who think that the reason is that the interests of the local governments are not aligned with the central government, and the local government has the tendency to realize the maximum interests for itself. We should admit that all these factors are present, but the most basic reason is that the construction of the rule of law has been lagging in our nation.
From the legal point of view, the central policies are not just the policies of the central government, but they are also legally effective. Therefore, the most significant characteristic of the authority of the central government is that it is the highest law-making authority in the entire country. No matter whether those eight provinces/cities failed to implement the national student load policies, or whether those two national-level policy documents from the State Council to improve coal mine safety were ignored, these events reflect the crisis facing the rule of law. When the orders from the central government are not carried out, it is not only a challenge to the authority of the central government, but it is also a refusal to follow the law as well as a defiance of the rule of law. Although we have drawn up a large number of laws, rules and regulations, there is not yet a system by which they are automatically operationally. The lower-level organizations and departments are still ignoring the laws and orders from above and refusing to implement them. In the minds of many local government officials, they have the authority in their hands, and that is more powerful than the law.
In a country ruled by law, whether the national laws or the orders from the upper-level government, they reflect the spirit and power of the rule of law. If the various orders and policies from the upper-level government are distorted or ignored during the execution, then it is not just the authority of the central government but also the rule of law are being challenged. Therefore, it is not enough to issue more orders and announcements to promote the central government policies. It is not enough to focus on specific cases and apply pressure or issue penalties against defiant local officials. In order to put a stop to the phenomenon of "policies decided at Zhongnanhai not making it out of Zhongnanhai", the most basic step is to build up a system of rule of law. To establish the authority of the central government, we must first establish the authority of the rule of law, and then use the rule of law to protect the authority of the central government. That would be the best path.
At JCRB, Bian Guangchun (卞广春) tagged an addendum:
... Tan's article brought up the problem of getting policies implemented and the solution, but this only dealt with one aspect of implementing policies. We will have to avoid the other problem of "the situation of the people not reaching Zhongnanhai." In real life, there is still a distance between the central government and the people. It is important to let the central government what is happening so that there won't be any "intestinal obstruction" between the central government and the people that could reduce mutual understanding. It will also show the central government how the spirit of the policy was missing during implementation and it will also help to avoid policies that are disconnected from the lives of the grassroots.
In substance, the policies and spirit of the government depend on the situation of the people, as well as international politics and historical background. When the central government does not know how the people live and their working conditions, then the policies may be in error and the implementation may be inefficient, so that the entire process from formulation to implementation is all just busy-work! The phenomenon of the divergence between central policy spirit and actual reality is a great criticism.
We know that government policies do not fall out of nowhere and they do were not impulsive decisions. Their direction, forcefulness and practicality are not to be toyed around with.
Recently, many media have been reporting on the matter at Jianshe town in Qinggang County Heilongjiang Province. There, the poor peasants had to pay to purchase quotas in order to qualify for government subsidies, and when they bought the quotas, they did not receive any subsidies; huge amounts of subsidy money were disappeared; the "subsidized cow" program brought cows that were only bigger than dogs in size. These various odd occurrences in a poverty subsidy program were truly astonishing to read about. How come no one discovered these things for such a long time, no one reported them and no one investigated them? The central government's policy to support the poor did not directly benefit the people; instead, it was used as an enticement that increased the burden on the people and exploited the poor instead. This is setting up a chasm between the people and the central government.
In Tan's article, he wrote that certain local government officials have the authority in their hands, and that is more powerful than the law. The reason why the situation of the people does not get reflected to the central government is due to the usual stuff that the local governments to place their superiors, to save face, to create political accomplishments while ignoring public interests. To make sure that the situation of the people can get to Zhongnanhai, it is necessary to have public awareness and alertness and to giver the public one or more channels of reporting. It is also necessary to build a system of "special inspectors" to watch over how policies, orders and popular feedback are communicated properly; polices are implemented; the local government officials are professional; policies are formulated and adjusted; information for evaluating and appointing officials are obtained.