Beijing opens green super-ministry

Rowan Callick, China correspondent The Australian

THE Chinese Government has underlined its concerns about the environment by upgrading it into one of five new super-ministries announced yesterday.

But the bureaucratic hurdles have proven too great to create the long-expected energy super-ministry.

Overall, it is a timid result from a much-vaunted review aimed at streamlining decision-making and supervision, with the number of cabinet-level agencies reporting to the peak government body, the State Council, cut by just one from 28 to 27.

In announcing the outcome to the annual session of the National People’s Congress, Hua Jianmin, the secretary-general of the State Council, said the reforms were "aimed at building an efficient and service-oriented government". He said "problems of overlap between departments, disconnect between power and responsibility and low efficiency are still quite stark".

He stressed the importance of the new Environment Ministry, saying: "China will face the need for environmental protection as a severe challenge for a long time to come, with the task of reducing pollution an arduous one."

This third major restructuring of government within the past decade creates a National Energy Commission to take responsibility for energy strategy, security and development.

But the National Development and Reform Commission, the top planning agency, will continue to control the administration and regulation of the sector.

Massive state-owned corporations, including PetroChina and the State Grid, which opposed answering to a new Energy Ministry, successfully fought its creation.

The new Environment Ministry marks a step up for the modestly resourced State Environmental Protection Administration. The other super-ministries are:

* The Ministry of Industry and Information, into which will be folded the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence, the Ministry of Information Industry, the State Council Information Office, and – oddly – the State Tobacco Monopoly Bureau.

* The Ministry of Health will incorporate the State Food and Drug Administration, and will have stronger powers to supervise safety in those products, a growing cause of controversy and concern in the past year after a series of scandals that saw a former head of the SFDA executed for corruption.

* The Ministry of Transport will incorporate the old Ministry of Communications and the old General Administration of Civil Aviation. It will be responsible for two new agencies, the State Civil Aviation Bureau and the State Post Bureau.

* The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security takes on the roles of the old Ministry of Personnel and Ministry of Labour and Social Security. It will establish a new agency, the State Bureau of Civil Servants.

The powerful NDRC – which formerly monitored many Chinese industries, acting as an intermediary between them and the State Council – appears to be one casualty in the shake-up.

It will lose its project-approval powers and its wide-ranging supervisory role.

Mr Hua said the People’s Bank of China – which in China is an arm of government – will take on a strengthened role co-ordinating financial departments.

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