•   12 Mar 2013
  •    Paul O Brien


    The unprecedented growth of China’s economy has presented the government with a constantly evolving socioeconomic and cultural landscape with unique challenges that demand fresh approaches to both new and old problems. A major reshuffling of governmental agencies is planned and according to statements this Sunday (10th March 2013) made by state councilor Ma Kai at the 12th National People’s Congress (NPC) held in Beijing, major institutional reforms are planned with far reaching and hugely significant impact. The reforms will both downsize the number of ministries from 27 to 25 and also increase their respective productivity and efficiency. The major areas of focus were;
    1. Transport focusing on the rail network
    2. Legislation regarding Food and drug Safety
    3. Public health and population reform

    Rail Infrastructure and Administrative Reforms

    China’s vast rail infrastructure network has been the subject of controversy. Last week at the NPC plans revealed a clear shift in emphasis towards privatization and adoption of more economically feasible and commercially viable management methodologies. Like a system under stress from the pressures of excess the essential infrastructure has become clogged and overloaded. Population burdens aside, the exponential rate of economic and commercial development has seen the rail network struggle to keep apace of the ever increasing demands.  Chinese rail transport  is a system bursting at the seams and demanding modernization. As seen in other European countries with previously state run rail networks such as Great Britain, phasing in from full/semi-state to ultimately privately run enterprise has seen changes which have had both positive and negative impact on productivity and efficiency and hopefully valuable lessons can be learned from these forerunners. On Sunday rail transport Minister Sheng Guangzu announced that the railway system would be the subject of significant change and would see its administrative and commercial functions separated. Both indigenous and foreign investment would be sought with the ultimate goal of modernizing and improving this vital infrastructure. The move may be a sign of things to come and reveal policy trends towards greater market driven capitalization of essential services in China.

    Figure 1. The Administrative Reform of Ministry of Railway

    Food Safety and Drug Safety Reforms

    China’s chief food safety administrative bureau the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) is also to be granted greater responsibilities and powers. Plans were announced to centralize and consolidate its regulatory and administrative powers. Combination of the existing fragmented regulatory framework were outlined, certain responsibilities  previously designated to the governmental agencies of General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) will be transferred and now fall under the individual remit of the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA). The move will focus the regulatory, administrative and enforcement duties into a single more powerful agency helping to close the regulatory loop holes which have plagued China’s food industry. It is envisioned that the move will create a regulatory agency with hallmarks similar to that of the US FDA or Europe's EFSA hopefully instilling confidence in both indigenous and external markets as fallout from infamous food industry scandals continues to mar the international reputation of the Chinese industry.

    Figure 2. The Administrative Reform of SFDA

    National Health and Population Reform

    The most globally significant issue addressed at Sunday’s NPC regarded China’s proposed conglomeration of the Health Ministry with the National Population and Family Planning Commission into National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) . Concerns hinged around shifting demographics and epidemiological issues and the move has the potential to more effectively manage these concerns and eliminate redundancy caused by existing agency overlap. The function of the new ministry is to primarily orient itself around public health concerns by improving the standards of health care available to everyone and ensuring a better quality of life for the population and a fairer allocation of funding. According to state councilor Ma the primary aim of the reform was to “optimize the resource allocation of medical care and public health services and that of family planning services, as well as improve the health of the people”.

    Figure 3. The Administrative Reform of Ministry of Health

    In closing these reforms have demonstrated the foresight and legislative bravery of the current government and were greeted with applause and widespread optimism as word of the planned changes spread.