A County Communist Party Secretary Limits His Own Powers

(China Youth Daily)  A County Communist Party Limits His Own Powers.  By Guo Jianguang.  July 7, 2010.

At this late stage of his life, Wang Xiaohua has become a celebrity in Daming county, Hebei province.  He is an official with a complex character.  He keeps experimenting with reforms while being cautious; he had been a Communist Party School teacher and writes clear-headed essays, but he does not want to be known as a "scholarly official"; he is mild and gentle, but he has been known to publicly scold his underlings for mistakes; he has his own views, he is resolute, he detests small talk, he hates socialization, he is "anti-social", he rarely appears at public functions.  Simply put, he is a charismatic reformer and a county Communist Party secretary who insists on changing officialdom in an impoverished county.

As he leaned on the comfortable sofa made of genuine ladder, he stated that he was only doing the least that a county party secretary ought to be doing.

Wang Xiaohua had not expected to be sent to work at such a remote location.  Even so, he had his own ideas.

But the local people had a lot of expectations when he showed up.

The Daming county officials said that there had been plenty of changes when their new party secretary was still over at Cheng'an, with the local economy surging there.  Therefore they hoped that their new party secretary could change Daming.

There was another reason why the Daming people held high hopes for him.  He had worked five years in Daming county since 1992.  During that time, he was the publicity department director and the party disciplinary committee secretary for 30 months each.  Therefore he was familiar with local conditions.

Many people could sense that Daming officialdom is changing.

He has assumed duty here for over one year.  He has already brought very visible changes to this county located in the southeastern corner of Hebei province.  He widened some streets and he restored the ancient city walls of "Daming City."  But some streets are still decrepit, traffic is still chaotic, people's wallets haven't gotten a lot fatter than before and the stairs in the 50-year-old county party building are still creaky.  But Wang Xiaohua remains highly ambitious as he attempts to change the most important thing in his county (and even the nation as a whole): he wants to reform officialdom.

He deals with officials with problems; he posts the telephone numbers of officials at the entrances of their offices; he demands officials to sweep the streets every Tuesday morning (except in extremely poor weather).

Telephone numbers for the Department of Commerce director

Tuesday morning street sweeping

The most key reform is the appointment systems for officials.  After coming into his job in before the Lunar New Year of 2009, this county party secretary drafted 10 documents over the course of two months to change the cadre appointment system.  Henceforth, anyone who wants to become a cadre has to be approved not only by the party organization department and the county party standing committee, but also the voting by colleagues and ordinary citizens.

These measures drew plenty of comments.  Some people thought that this was a deliberate challenge of the "hidden rules" within officialdom and will therefore be obstructed all the way.  Other people say that this reform was actually "the county party secretary limiting his own powers."  Still other people want to link this with "democracy."

Wang Xiaohua used his typical experienced tone to say: "I am only protecting myself."

Compared to officials who complain that they don't have enough power, Wang Xiaohua "tied" his own hands up" as if he couldn't wait to do so.

The Daming county part organization department director Pang Yaozhou recalled that when the reforms first began, party secretary Wang Xiaohua would give him a draft document every few days for review, sometimes even late at night.  The timing was urgent and he had to make suggestions for amendment in two to three days.  After making the editing changes, Wang Xiaohua called a meeting of the party standing committee; if the document was passed, an official version was issued.  "The timing was very tight."

These printed draft documents covered broad areas, including the principles of how the county party secretary can appoint people, the secret balloting, etc.  There were also some pre-printed forms.

"Each procedural step is described in detail.  You can understand it immediately.  It is very easy to implement."  Pang Yaozhou gave this opinion.

After only two months, Daming county abandoned the traditional cadre appointment system.  In June 2009, the new system was used the first time when a deputy department director was promoted to department director.

After seven years as county party secretary, Wang Xiaohua is extremely familiar with the old system.  As soon as he arrived in Daming, he came into contact with this system: Certain former colleagues came to see the newly appointed county party secretary, including some who wanted him to "take care of so-and-so."

Before entering politics, Wang Xiaohua taught the history of economic management for six months at the Handan Communist Party School.  He had also written some essays on the analysis of systems.  After becoming an official, he seriously analyzed the system for cadre appointment.

His conclusion was that "democracy and centralization went different ways" within the cadre appointment system.

Wang Xiaohua thought that the local leader had concentrated all the powers in his own hands when it came to making cadre appointments, "almost without any effective limitations."  This phenomenon was getting worse in certain places, such that corruption was occurring through the trading of job positions for money.

A veteran organization department official also had misgivings about this phenomenon.  For over more than one decade, he had observed and heard about many strange occurrences.  "Some places have open price lists: 50,000 yuan to become town mayor; 70,000 to 80,000 yuan to become town party secretary; some positions are worth as much as 500,000 yuan."

Under the old system, the leader recommends someone for a position, the party organization department reviews the candidate and forwards the report to the county party standing committee which makes the decision.

"The county party secretary chairs the meeting of the party standing committee.  The party organization department presented the review report first.  The county part secretary then asked for opinions."  Pang Yaozhou said.  "The decision was either by ballot voting or vocal acclamation.  When the county party secretary said, 'Does anyone have an opinion?' it was hard to say anything.  The candidate was approved if more than half of the standing committee members voted yes.  Individual dissent couldn't affect the outcome."

The other format is the "democratic meeting to make recommendations."  Under this system, all qualified persons may be recommended.  The person with the highest number of votes gets promoted.

Wang Xiaohua calls this method "open democracy."  He wrote in an essay: "This system eliminates the problem of the concentration of powers within the hands of the top leader.  But its simplicity leads to vote-buying and influence-trading among friendly factions."

The Cheng'an county Teacher Training Center deputy principal Li Rongbin stated frankly that he was the victim of this system.  In 2006, Li Rongbin and a colleague vied for a deputy director position.  Since he did not "go after votes," he lost by one vote in the second round of voting.

"It depends on how active you are.  If you won't even make a telephone call, people will think that you are not in the election.  In such elections, the honest person is at a disadvantage."  Li Rongbin said.

To avoid these new problems, the principle of "watching the votes but not relying only on them" was introduced.  The "democratic meeting to make recommendations" continued to be held, but the person with the highest number of votes was not automatically promoted.  A cadre said: "The voting was just one part of the process."

Wang Xiaohua thought that it was not easy to solve the problem of vote solicitation and buying under this system, because it was made it easier for the top leader to conduct secret trading.  He was familiar with these issues and he began to think about solutions.

Before coming to Daming county, Wang Xiaohua worked for 8 years at Cheng'an county, west of Daming county.  He spent the first 27 months as county mayor and the rest of the time as county party secretary.  In Cheng'an, he was known for his reforms.  First, he promoted the "system of social audience."  In personnel and other important issues, he invited people from various social sectors to listen in on the deliberations of the party standing and full committees.  In 2008, he introduced the cadre reform system and successfully appointed four cadres under this new system.

Less than one year later, he brought this sytem to Daming county and began the reforms in which "the county party secretary limits his own powers."

Under this new cadre appointment system, it was not easy to become a deputy department director in Daming county.

First of all, the leader of the department with the vacant position and other county senior grade one leaders can collectively or individually nominate a suitable candidate in a written document to be submitted to the party committee of the candidate's department, where a vote will be made to come up with a formal list of candidates.

These candidates will be published and reviewed by the county party organization department for their qualifications.  This is followed by a public opinion poll within the the department.  After three rounds of democratic recommendations, the winning candidate is forwarded for review of his actual job performances.  Then the final vote is made by the county party standing committee.

The preliminary nominations, the formal nominations, the open disclosure of the nominees, the review of their qualifications and the democratic recommendations -- in these five steps, the exercise of power is accompanied with a corresponding responsibility for the actions taken.

For example, the preliminary recommendation can be made by the department leader and the county top leaders.  But if the nominee is found to have serious problems, then the county party committee will hold the nominator accountable (if the candidate was nominated collectively by the department, then the department leader will be held accountable).

"Officials cannot act arbitrarily.  If something goes wrong during a certain phase, the person responsible for that phase will be held accountable."  Wang Xiaohua said.

When an official is held responsible for his actions, he becomes more cautious in recommending a cadre.  A certain department leader once made a personal recommendation for one person.  The party organization department screened the candidate and found him to have prior disciplinary problems which were not reflected in the letter of recommendation.  Thus, the candidate was eliminated.

"The nominator was not personally punished.  But everybody in his department as well as outside knew that his nominee was not approved.  He must surely feel very embarrassed."  A cadre in the Daming county party organization department said.

Wang Xiaohua pays a lot of attention to this aspect of the nomination process.  In his view, this phase is where the "concentration of power" shows itself.  "The department and party committee leaders have to discover these talented people.  Through democratic voting afterwards, the elected candidates should be pretty good."

He realized that this will infringe upon the interests of certain people, but he was determined to proceed ahead.

This county party secretary can be very determined.  He had been a habitual smoker who smoked two packs per day.  Four years ago, he had a bet with someone and quit smoking.  To date, he does not smoke but he will often hold a cigarette in his hand.  When he feels like smoking, he chews tobacco, even having chewed an entire cigarette.  But in order to observe that bet, he will not smoke.

Certain veteran cadres are full of praises for Wang Xiaohua's reforms.  One veteran cadre said: "As long as you do your work well, you can be promoted.  There is no need to flatter your superiors or go beg them for jobs.  Both the costs and risks are reduced.  Apart from those people who have no capabilities, no one else will object.  As time goes by, even officials will appreciate this.  Nobody wants to make a mistake."

After the new system was placed into action, Wang Xiaohua felt secure.  "Someone came to be to ask for a favor.  I told him to follow the system.  As time goes by, people don't come to me anymore."

With the arrival of Wang Xiaohua as party secretary in Daming county, there came the scene of the rarely seen voting.

This is different from the scene that most people are familiar with in which people in a meeting hall raise their hands.  When these elections take place, the conference room is usually filled.  There are not enough seats so that some people had to stand.

One one occasion, four deputy department directors were vying for two department director positions with the Daming county government office.  Of the 50 workers in the Government office, 44 were present.

Among the four candidates, two were nominated by the department and two others "had the same qualifications" within the department.  Under the new system, these person "with the same qualifications" are candidates for recommendations too.

The first round of voting is done by secret ballots.  Each of the 44 office workers had been issued a preprinted form in which the names of the persons nominated by the department and the others who have the same qualifications are listed.  The voter needs only to check YES/NO in the relevant column of each candidate.  After the voter marks the choices, the vote is placed into a ballot box.  The Party Organization Department workers tally the votes.  The vote is valid if only more than half of the department workers voted.

In this round as well as all subsequent rounds, any candidate who fails to achieve 2/3 of the votes will not be considered.

In the second round of the voting, all middle-level or higher cadres cast their ballots under registered voting (that is to say, they had to sign their names on the ballots).

After the registered voting, another 16 persons showed upon in the meeting room.  These additional people are from departments which have close connections or are sub-departments.  The 60 people went through another round of secret balloting.

After three rounds of voting, the names of the victors are posted in front of the department office entrance to await the results of the Party Organization Department review.  The list also contains the telephone number/address for people to make denunciations.

Daming County People's Government Office notice

Daming County Government Information Center deputy director Zhao Xianjie also had the same qualifications.  He was eliminated in the first round of voting.  He said that "he has no complaints" about the result.

"In the past, you don't even know who is being recommended.  It was very secretive.  Now it is all out in the open.  If you don't get elected by others, it means that there is something wrong with your work.  In the past, it does not matter if you work well or you work poorly and it does not matter if you work hard or not.  Now it is all changed.  Your chances depend on your performance."  Zhao Xianjie said.

Government Office Director's Department worker Sun Huaimin felt the same way: "Nowadays, not only are there no back doors but even the back windows are sealed off.  There is no point to seek out the county party secretary about getting a job.  His word alone is not enough."

After the party organization department completes their review, the deputy department directors will be voted upon by the county party standing committee while the department directors will be voted upon by the county party full committee.  One person, one vote.

The county party standing committee or the county party full committee votes use secret ballots.  In the corner of the meeting hall is a desk behind a screen for the voter to fill out the ballot which is cast into the box in front of the screen.  Members of the Party Organization Department will call out the votes one by one.

Even after passing all four rounds of voting, the position is not secure.  Each newly appointed official only gets a trial period of one year.  After the trial period is over, the official is evaluated by the people.  "If the approval is less than 2/3 and the official is found to fall short, he will be relieved of his duty."

Even those cadres who are passed after the trial period are not secure.  Each year, they will be evaluated each year by the people.  Anyone who has lower than 2/3 approval become targets for elimination.  If they are found incompetent upon review, they will be re-assigned to non-leadership positions or idled.

"There is a countless number of eyes watching you.  If you don't perform well, you will lose your job.  So how can you not work hard?  You can't fool the people."  A Daming county official said.

But this is not just the county-level departments, for the town cadres are also appointed under this system.

Wanti town department member Jia Suying was voted in during the democratic recommendation phase by 41 village party secretaries and mayors along with 20 public representatives, including members from her own village.

Wannan town villager Cheng Jinming was one of those 20 public representatives.  He is 45 years old and this was the first time in his life that he has voted for the town cadre.  One day the village party secretary called a meeting of village representatives and explained the matter of participation/voting.  The party committee members and village representatives elected Cheng Jinming to represent them.

"I have been a farmer for decades.  I never imagined that I would participate in politics."  Cheng Jinming.  "In the future, town cadres who do well will be elected and those who don't do well will not be elected."

Wang Xiaohua is tall and strong.  Just like his physique, his working style is just as strong and powerful.

This seems a contradiction.  The cadre appointment system in Daming county weakens the powers of the county party secretary.  He even issued the document <Regulations on appointing people by the Daming county party secretary> in which he is obliged "not to make impromptu motions on cadre appointments".  In order to force though this system, he had to leverage the powers of the office of the county party secretary.

But this strength achieved results.  After one year, the new system has not run into any opposition.  He didn't even hear any dissenting views.

At first, when officials made reports to Wang Xiaohua, they began with reciting a litany of problems.  Wang Xiaohua refused to have any of that.  He scolded them in person: "If you don't want to figure out the solutions, why are you needed here?  When you make reports in the future, please give me your ideas about how to solve the problems.  If you really can't figure it out, you can seek me out to find the solutions."

Sometimes, this county party secretary holds no bars even in public.  Even though people who know him say that he is approachable and serene, the fact that he openly rebuked two officials in a meeting drew him praise in the streets of Daming.

Wang Xiaohua does not hesitate to deal with officials who get into trouble.

Party Organization Department director Pang Yaozhou said that when Wang first arrived, he and the party secretary received denunciation letters that piled up to more than one feet tall.  Pang Yaozhou recalled that party secretary Wang Xiaohua met with the others and said to "deal first with the most notorious officials to set the right atmosphere in society."

Within one year, Wang Xiaohua punished three department heads.

He also asked the officials to post their telephone numbers on their department entrances, so that people don't have to ask around about how to reach them.  He also asked officials to actively solicit business investments in the county.

Wang Xiaohua does not spare his praises for dutiful cadres.  He even promoted some of them without their awareness.

He does not even know some of these people.  For example, the Daming county Shuguan town party secretary Zhu Zhenyong used to the town mayor.

Shuguan town is the most remote place in Daming county, being 40 kilometers away from the county city.  When Zhu Zhenyong was the town mayor, he earned many banners and certificates for good job performances.  Some of these were gifts from the people, others were awarded by the party.  He had been the mayor for six years.  Others who were promoted at the same time have become party secretary long time ago.

"I had no idea that I was going to be promoted," Zhu Zhenyong.

Petitions are another focus of Wang Xiaohua.  After less one year, there are virtually no petitioners to be seen in Daming county, even at the most sensitive Petition Office.  Wednesday is the designated day for the county leaders to receive petitions at the Petition Office.  On June 2, there were only two petitioners in Daming county.

"Secretary Wang regards petition work as being equally important as economic development.  He has held as least 30 meetings about petitions."  The Petition Office director Yan Hongming said.  With this high level of attention, the number of petitions within Daming county has dropped by 18.4% compared to last year.  The number of petitions to the three levels of government above Daming county has dropped 23.5%.  The more than 30 leftover petition cases have also now been "completely handled properly."

"Nobody wants to be a bad official."  Yan Hongming explained.

Wang Xiaohua is proud that during the process of creating the "Song Dynasty Famous City" project which involves the relocation of more than 1,000 families, there was "not a single petitioner."

Wang Xiaohua is terse and experienced in his speeches.  He speaks mostly in an impromptu manner for several minutes only, seldom longer than 30 minutes.  "I know all the problems by heart.  I don't need to prepare a speech beforehand.  I don't like to say superfluous words."  He said.

He is famous for the terseness of his speeches.  More than a decade ago at a meeting when all the work was done, the organizer asked him to give the closing speech.  He said only: "This meeting is over."

The Department of Commerce director Yang Huailin was the first official selected under the new appointment system.  Before being promoted to this position, he was a deputy director in the local Department of Commerce.  When the documents on cadre appointment came out, Yang who had spent thirty years within the Department of Commerce decided to recommend himself for the position of the director of Department of Commerce's Commerce and Trade Office and Logistics Office.

In mid-June 2009, he sought out Department of Commerce leaders and made his proposal.  The Department of Commerce held a meeting of mid-level and higher cadres to discuss this issue.

At this meeting, 49-year-old Yang Huailin explained his "platform."  At the time, the Department of Commerce was not in good shape.  The employees were only receiving just over half of their pay while the department was flooded with petitions.  After 30 minutes of discussion, "most people agreed."  So the department leaders decided to nominate Yang.

One month later, the Daming county party organization department conducted a public satisfaction survey.  After two rounds of voting, Yang Huailin won over another candidate.  On August 6, 2009, Yang Huailin was officially appointed with a trial period of one year.  After one year, he was transferred to become the Department of Commerce director.

When this new director showed up for his job, he lit three fires.  The first fire was to improve working conditions by moving from the original wet and damp bungalow back to a multi-storey building.  The second fire was to raise wages to 80% of their nominal level.  The third fire was to actively seek business investments in the county.

"It was like as if I had been injected with chicken blood.  I was ready to work all the time."  Yang Huailin said that he did not take a weekend off for his first three months on the job.  "I think that the reform of the cadre system was wonderful.  Without it, I could not be where I am."

"Even the regular workers were changed.  In the past, we must to grumble at work.  Now we talk about our work.  The more we work, the more enthusiastic we are.  If we do well, we have the chance for promotion."  The worker Yang Lijun said.  He is now 40 years old and had once contemplated retirement.

Business owners who have close relationships to the Department of Commerce have also sensed the change.  The Daming Yutong Home Electronics Services Limited Company manager Guo Xizhen said: "It is easy to contact someone now.  Their mobile phone numbers are posted on the office doors.  We don't have to go around asking people.  It is rare not to be able to get through.  In the past, you could try asking but nobody will tell you."

A Daming county company vice-president Wu Changchen said that his manager told him that another smaller company used to spend more than 100,000 yuan in entertainment expenses several years ago now only spends 50,000 to 60,000 yuan.

"The people in the professional departments don't dare to ask for free meals because we could vote against them," Wu Changchen said.

Today in the Daming county government office and the party committee office, people are used to working overtime.  "The efficiency has clearly improved.  We hold a meeting in the afternoon and the documents are ready by the evening for delivery to the leaders the next morning.  In the past, the documents won't arrive until afternoon the next day.  Nowadays overtime work is regular."  Daming county government documents department director Duan Hongzhou said.

The documents department is also looking for things to do.  Whenever the county takes a new direction, the documents department will actively go out to conduct observational studies and write internal research reports for the county leaders.  So far, the documents department has written more than 10 issues of these research departments, "some of which drew the attention of the leaders."

"It is optional whether we do these things or not.  We did it for ourselves.  In this business, who does not want to advance politically?"  Duan Hongzhou said.

Wang Xiaohua's office is located in a quiet courtyard with many bamboo trees in front of the entrance.  This is the spot where many of the system reforms in Daming county originate.

Although Wang Xiaohua is trying everything to promote his reforms, he is somewhat reticent about publicizing these reforms because of possible controversy.  When our reporter wanted to take a photograph of him, he waved the reporter off.  "I don't want to show my face in the media."

After this one year, his reform measures has finally gained recognition from the Hebei provincial party organization department.

But this has not made him complacent.  By accident, he let slip his concerns about his own future: "Daming may be my last stop."  Occasionally he will laugh and say, "The pressure is very great."

But very quickly he resumes his composure.  He is once again the vivacious and determined county party secretary.