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China to set up first environment ministry

Latest update : 2008-03-11

In an effort to make government more efficient and fight corruption, China said it would set up five new "super-ministries," including one dedicated to environmental protection for the first time in its history.

China announced Tuesday it would set up five new "super ministries", including its first one dedicated to environmental protection, in an effort to streamline the government and fight corruption.
   
The reshuffle of the nation's cabinet will also see the health ministry upgraded to oversee food and drug safety, according to a copy of the plan given to journalists that will be approved at the ongoing session of parliament.
   
Cabinet secretary general Hua Jianmin told parliament that the changes were necessary to make the government more efficient and to curb abuse of power.
   
"Public administration and public services are still weak," Hua said.
   
"The phenomena of misuse of authority, abusing power for personal gains and corruption still exist."
   
Hua said the problems of overlapping responsibilities and low efficiency within the government remained "quite serious", while some areas of the bureaucracy were not being adequately supervised.
   
The five new ministries will be: the Ministry of Industry and Information, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Construction, and the Ministry of Transport.
   
A National Bureau of Energy will also be set up to oversee energy policy across all ministries.
   
In an effort to improve macro-economic policies, the government will establish a body to co-ordinate between the central bank, finance ministry and the main economic planning body.
   
Under the new system, China's cabinet, or State Council, will have 27 ministries and commissions, one less than before. No timeline was given for when the reformed cabinet would come into effect.
   
The establishment of the new environment ministry is part of the government's efforts to give more muscle to those in charge of the long-running and seemingly losing struggle against China's pollution problems.
   
"Environmental protection is a basic policy of our nation. It is linked to our national development," Hua said, adding that China had to "expand the scope of environmental management" and "create an environmentally friendly society."
   
The State Environment Protection Administration, which has previously suffered from low levels of staffing and resources, will be upgraded to take charge of the new portfolio.
   
"The establishment of the Environment Ministry will signal a turning point at which environmental issues are moving from the margin to the centre of governance in China," Greenpeace Campaign Director Lo Sze Ping said.
   
"We hope the promotion will also give the new ministry ‘real teeth’ to enforce China’s environmental regulations and to counter the vested interests of growth-at-all-cost," Lo said in a statement.
   
The decision to place food and drug safety under the umbrella of the health ministry is part of China's efforts to resurrect the reputation of those sectors following a series of scandals both at home and abroad.
   
The former head of the State Food and Drug Administration, Zheng Xiaoyu, was executed last year after being convicted of taking bribes in return for approving hundreds of medicines, some that proved dangerous.
   
Tainted food exports have also caused major tensions with some of China's biggest trading partners, including Japan and the United States.
   
The new "super" transport ministry will bring together the bodies responsible for aviation, road and shipping.
   
But an independent ministry for rail has been retained, apparently signalling a win for those in charge of the lucrative sector who had reportedly fought hard to hold on to their powers.
   
The National People's Congress, or parliament, is due to vote on the ruling Communist party's plans before the two-week annual session ends on Tuesday. The NPC is a rubber stamp body that endorses the plans of the party.

Date created : 2008-03-11

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