Cadres fall victim to bureaucratic revolution

China is to slash its bloated civil service in the biggest government reshuffle since 1949, writes Teresa Poole in Peking
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ALMOST 50 years ago, a victorious Communist Party took control of China and resolved to eliminate the landlord class. Yesterday, party leaders proclaimed a new "revolution", this one aimed at the millions of idle, tea-swilling, newspaper-reading civil servants whose dedication to red-tape is matched only by their ingenuity at banqueting on government funds.

In a move to strike fear in the hearts of card-carrying cadres, the number of civil servants on the books of the central government ministries is to be halved by the end of this year. That is only a start. By the end of next year, provincial and lower-level local governments must come up with re-organisation plans that will mean millions more cadres stepping out into the real world.

China's bloated and bureaucratic civil service, and its trunk-loads of regulations, are the bane of life for anyone trying to get anything done in that country.

Luo Gan, a member of the State Council (China's Cabinet), admitted as much yesterday when he announced the biggest reorganisation of government since 1949.

"There is a serious problem of too many people doing too little work, causing red tape and bureaucracy, and at the same time helping corruption, embezzlement and bad social tendencies grow," he said.

Central and local government budgets had almost become "rice-eating budgets", he told this year's National People's Congress.

Mr Luo gave no numbers, but the Chinese media said the number of civil servants would be cut from 8 million to 4 million. The size of government was "too heavy and too complicated", said Mr Luo.

The first stage of reorganisation will sort out the departments under the State Council. Some 15 ministries and commissions will be disbanded and four "super-ministries" established, with the result that the total number of ministries falls from 40 to 29. The total number of civil servants in these organisations under the State Council, including in their provincial branches, will be halved.

"It's a revolution," said Mr Luo. But he warned that "reforms cannot proceed without resistance and risks. However, there is no way out if we do not reform".

Businesses and enterprises will be hived off from government departments, and state subsidies to non-administrative units will be phased out over three years.

The biggest risk is what to do with the cadres, or the "treasures of the state", as Mr Luo called them. He said the "reduction of government size and fixing of staff" would be completed by the end of this year, but it would take three years "to channel" cadres into re-training schemes and new roles.

He stressed that the unwanted cadres would keep their salaries during the three-year "channelling" period, and after training they would be able to play "a full role" in various sectors including banking, commerce and taxation departments.

However, with unemployment already soaring because of lay-offs among state enterprise workers, many of the civil servants must know that the gravy train is finally heading into the sidings.