Grassroots challenges in bureaucratic jungle -- reported by Banyuetan
"It is necessary to empower grassroots organizations, provide them with basic support, and strengthen their right to participate in and offer ideas on major decisions, plans, and projects."
The following article is published on 半月谈 Banyuetan, a biweekly run by the Xinhua News Agency, on its eighth issue in 2022, which was also posted on the Wechat account of Xinhua on April 24. In this post, various challenges that China's grassroots organizations experience in fulfilling their KPI targets were covered by Banyuetan reporters.
In order for readers to comprehend this article, Ginger River feels it is required to explain several terms specific to China's policy-speak.
既要、又要、还要, "Both ... And... While Also..." This is a common criticism of some conflicting policy objectives grassroots organizations face with. For instance, a grassroots leader might face a situation when he is asked to both achieve the GDP growth targets and control the COVID-19 epidemic, while also ensuring that residents get ample groceries.
层层加码 Ceng Ceng Jia Ma, literally translated as "adding weights at each level." It's a phenomenon in which policy tends to become even harsher when it goes down the bureaucratic ladder, and so that the actual policy objectives at the grassroots level become much more difficult than the original directive suggests. Because Ginger River finds no cleaner way to translate this term, it will simply be referred to as Ceng Ceng Jia Ma.
The article can help to give you more vivid examples of these terms and can demonstrate to you how the grassroots are coping with these problems on a daily basis. Also, the fact that it has been reported by a top publication like Banyuetan demonstrates that this kind of discussion and debates are common within China's system, as shown in a previous post "How does a symposium with China's Premier feel like." Ginger River understands that the senior leadership is in full knowledge of this type of problem.
"Both ... And... While Also..." How many hands do the grassroots have?
KPI management is crucial for the successful accomplishment of tasks. As the national governance becomes more systematic, local governance has been switched from stressing one central goal to coordinating between multiple goals. A high degree of coordination has become one of the features of the transition of grassroots governance models. However, through investigation, the reporter of Banyuetan Magazine has discovered that in the process of this transition, the tasks borne by the grassroots administration have become increasingly onerous. Progress of transition of the governance models was far from meeting the actual demands, resulting in competing targets, overlapping instructions from multiple authorities, and 层层加码 Ceng Ceng Jia Ma, or ever-amplifying requirements down the bureaucratic ladders.
Grassroots cadres and experts believe that coordination of goals shall be well-conducted, goal management ability shall be consistently improved, and the grassroots shall be empowered and provided with basic support.
"Both...And...While Also..." -- The arduous and complicated tasks for the grassroots
There is an energy company, which has been praised by the local energy department many times for their efforts to 保供 ensure supplies, but the same company was criticized by the safety supervision department for unauthorized production increase, for which they were fined a large sum... Not long ago, a staff member in the field of energy in a northern province told the Banyuetan reporter about his confusion: No mistakes are allowed either in ensuring supply or ensuring safety. However, the real issue is that in the face of the newly added supply obligation in the fourth quarter of last year, the increased obligation could not be completed without an unauthorized production increase.
"Every policy makes sense if it is considered only from the standpoint of a single department. But 上面千条线，底下一根针 the scene is that there are hundreds of threads above while only one needle down there to match them. Multiple policies of different departments come together at the same time, and all KPIs are subject to rigid assessment. Some goals are incompatible with one another, making it difficult for the grassroots to implement them. Sometimes, it just seems to be a 'lesser of two evils' case."
From pursuing high-speed growth in the past to aiming at high-quality development nowadays, China is entering a new stage of development with multiple goals and policies. With multiple goals like the 既要、又要、还要, "Both ... And... While Also..." the grassroots are confronted with complex situations such as “一难、两难、多难” "One difficulty, two difficulties and many difficulties," and there are various misaligned performances due to the mismatch between the actual ability and the goal requirements.
Tasks with various sources, different sources, and multiple demands have dispersed the grassroots' energy and made it difficult for them to focus on the main business.
A staff member of a safety office of a community in western China said that, during the epidemic prevention period, the grassroots cadres had to fill out various forms such as data of visitors and returnees from epidemic-related areas and keep close tabs on community epidemic prevention and control work, and were constantly distracted by numerous daily supervision, inspection, and examination work. Grassroots cadres, particularly community staff, have been overwhelmed.
"A considerable number of tasks have been assigned by higher-level departments to the subordinated offices and neighborhood committees. Apart from medical services which we are not able to provide, we have to deal with buying groceries, seeing doctors, and getting medicine for residents... Almost all issues, big or small, must be resolved, yet the higher-level departments didn't give enough support," said the staff member. And he added that there is a pervasive scarcity of staff, and some neighborhoods just rely on a small number of full-time employees and volunteers to keep order, putting their physical and mental health at risk.
Increase of burden on the grassroots due to Ceng Ceng Jia Ma and frequent re-allocation of resources
Some unsuitable governance practices have further raised the burden on the grassroots, according to Banyuetan reporters, as government shifts from prioritizing one central goal to coordinating multiple goals.
—— Rigid goals, Ceng Ceng Jia Ma. A village cadre who has served as the party secretary for 16 years in a county in central China said that what worries him most now is to promote the booster injection of the COVID-19 vaccine. The government document calls for voluntary vaccination, while certain departments ask for 100% vaccination. In some cases, when village cadres carried a hundred-year-old lady to get vaccinated, her son or daughter would shout behind them: "If my mother gets killed by the vaccine, who's gonna be responsible?"
Another example is that some villagers are unable to go to cities for work as a result of the epidemic. They cannot make their living just through farming and doing odd jobs in local areas. They are cash-strapped and they refuse to pay social security, medical care and endowment insurance, while the superior governments, on the other hand, asked for a bottom-line requiring that 95% of the villagers have to get insured.
——调度评比 KPI evaluations are conducted too often. Regular KPI evaluations have become a vital way of governance in order to cope with the ever-increasing assessment goals. Some grassroots cadres, however, reported that there is a tendency for over-excessive evaluations. Besides essential duties such as economic development, work safety, and epidemic prevention and control, a huge variety of minor issues are also included.
According to a local cadre in southern China, the town mayor called a meeting not long ago to arrange works, including 13 things in all, both large and small, all of which had to be included in KPI evaluations. "Even funeral and cremation services have been included in the evaluations. Counties evaluate townships, townships evaluate villages. Cadres still have to make a statement in the meeting even if there is no death in the village for a month."
——Too many tasks are assigned, while little authority is delegated. To achieve numerous goals, more autonomy should be empowered to the grassroots. The《关于加强基层治理体系和治理能力现代化建设的意见》Guidance on Strengthening the Modernization of Grassroots Governance System and Governance Capability, issued by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council in April 2021, clearly stated that townships/community offices shall be granted comprehensive administration rights, overall coordination rights, and emergency response rights in accordance with the law, as well as the right to participate in and make suggestions for major decisions, plans, and projects.
However, many grassroots cadres complain that in the face of numerous duties imposed by their superiors, the grassroots can only act passively. It is difficult for them to communicate with higher-level departments promptly and efficiently when faced with repetitive assignments from multiple departments. Even if the grassroots can communicate with the upper management, they are not able to break through barriers of information exchange across higher-level departments.
——"Make more efforts!" When there isn't enough money to pay the cadres [superiors will remark]: "Make more efforts to persuade them!" When we lack funds for certain projects [superiors will remark]: "Make more efforts to accomplish it!" When the petitioners arrive [superiors will remark]: "Make more efforts to get them back!" When senior department authorities are called upon to coordinate or resolve issues, the phrase "make more efforts" has become a potent rhetorical tool.
"They never say they won't back you up. All they ask is that you 'make more effort.' If the problem persists, people will blame you for not doing your job properly," explained a grassroots cadre from a northern Chinese town. COVID-19 epidemic prevention tasks for the grassroots have increased dramatically in the last two years, he added. Superior departments have increased the number of tasks they allocate, while grant amounts have decreased. He urged that higher-level departments provide public welfare employment to relieve the workload on grassroots cadres, but all he got was the words "Make more efforts to persuade comrades."
Strengthen the overall coordination of goals and enhance grassroots support
According to a deputy county-level cadre in the Dabie Mountains, industrial development is a key task of rural revitalization, but rural revitalization is coordinated by the National Rural Revitalization Administration, while industrial development is handled by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. These two departments are on the same level as one another. If higher-level departments do not coordinate well, it is difficult for subordinates to proceed.
In the face of the transition from old to new governance models, Zou Dongsheng, a professor at the Southwest University of Political Science and Law, believes that local governments across the country should improve their goal management capabilities, correct the formalism in goal assessment, and clean up the chaos, such as assigning multiple goals repeatedly from different departments.
On the one hand, superiors must first coordinate various evaluation goals, issue them scientifically, and appropriately implement them. It is critical to coordinate not just the superior-subordinate execution relationship, but also the horizontal cooperation between departments. To combat 部门主义 "Sectionalism" and 本位主义 "Departmentalism," limit goal conflicts, and avoid overlapping orders from different authorities and Ceng Ceng Jia Ma, a goal coordination and discussion mechanism across various departments must be built.
On the other hand, it is necessary to empower grassroots organizations, provide them with basic support, and strengthen their right to participate in and offer ideas on major decisions, plans, and projects affecting their region in light of the actual on-the-ground facts. (Enditem)