Numerous local Chinese authorities have launched "democratic
evaluation" (民主评议) campaigns in recent months. These are aimed at improving the
accountability and transparency of local governance by using a degree of
citizen participation, under tight Party controls, to evaluate the performance
of local officials. (See below for the
details of one such campaign, in
Chinese authorities seek to use these measures as a means to address pervasive corruption and abuse in local Chinese governments. But the continued monopoly of local Party influence over these efforts, and the unwillingness of Chinese authorities to create truly independent institutions to monitor Party and government power, raises questions as to their likelihood of success.
central authorities are making efforts to increase governmental transparency
and accountability. This is not exactly
new. Official directives going back to
late 1990s have stressed both of these as necessary elements for clean
governance. But these efforts were
boosted in particular by a joint 2005 directive
central Party and State Council that orders government information to generally
be made public and encourages greater use of public participation in
supervising government decisions. For
more information, see the relevant section of the 2006 annual report issued by the
Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
These efforts are percolating down through the vast Chinese bureaucracy. For example, in the spring of 2007, the State Council issued the first national open government regulations. Many local governments are launching initiatives aimed at using a degree of public participation and transparency to supervise government actions.
For example, on April 28, 2007, the general office of
stage is the evaluation stage and runs from May through the end of
October. The evaluation team in each
locality is charged with holding public conferences, distributing
questionnaires, and collecting popular opinions and suggestions regarding
governance problems with particular bureaus. The evaluation team is to subsequently hold conferences with the
government bureau in question to discuss problems raised (with key Party
leaders in attendance). And then,
following these conferences, public hearings are to be organized between
evaluators, government bureaus under examination, and selected citizens to
collectively discuss particular problems. Each evaluation office is also to conduct secret investigations of the
bureaus under review and expose typical problems in the media. Further, provincial authorities are charged
with organizing a 100,000 questionnaire survey of citizen attitudes regarding
the work performance of the bureaus in question.
Following the hearings and exposures of particular problems, each bureau under investigation is charged with responding to these problems within a discrete time period.
The third stage of the campaign is the review phase, and runs from November 2007 to March 2008. Here, the work of each bureau and level of government is analyzed and reviewed. Specifically, the success of local governments in handling problems raised and the citizen opinions toward the government bureaus in question are funneled toward local Party committees and organization bureaus. These groups, in turn, factor success or failure into the annual work evaluations of the government officials in question. Those with positive results receive career rewards. Those with negative results, sanctions.
As you can tell from the brief description above, this is a really a broad conceptual plan. Many important details are left for local municipal and township officials to fill in with their own plans for implementation. Notice two key aspects of the plan.
First, notice that there is some room for citizen and civil society participation in these efforts. Officials want citizen participation in answering questionnaires. They want social organizations to be part of the evaluation process. They seek to use the media and legislative hearings as a means to ferret out corruption and poor governance. They need the bottom-up flow of information to figure out what is going on, and what is going wrong, with local governance.
But notice the second aspect as well - the emphasis on top-down, particularly Party control of the process. There's an absence of an effort to establish long-term independent mechanisms which might check official power. Evaluators to be chosen from reliable sources – such as government, LPC officials, approved non-democratic parties. Actual citizen input into the process is indirect – managed by the official evaluators, and channeled in the end to Party and government officials for final action.
The fundamental conflict between these two goals raises questions as to whether they can be effective. After all, if ultimate responsibility for collecting citizen opinions and evaluating the performance of local officials doesn’t rest with any kind of independent institution, but with the local officials themselves, then you’ve got a classic principal-agent problem.