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Township Governments and Adverse Accountability System


by Zhao Shukai

Recently we conducted a field survey on the construction of accountability system of township governments in 20 villages and towns located in 10 provinces, such as Hebei, Shanxi, Shandong, Anhui, Hunan, Sichuan, Gansu, Ningxia and Shaanxi etc. The research findings based on the field survey are as follows.

Following a top-down assessment model relating to work performance and in line with the accountability system, township governmentsreceive the assessment by up-level governments and make assessment of their own staff members and village leaders. Inspection and assessment are almost quantitative and measured in terms of scores. The result of the implementation of accountability system is for the assessment. In many cases, the work of township governmentsis only related to the assessment itself, but not to the practical rural development.

I. Accountability arrangements by counties and county-level cities

The large assessment index system for township governments has detailed contents, which are usually arranged under three indicators. 1.The economic development indicator, such as fiscal revenue and taxation, farmers’income, self-employed and private businesses and investment attraction, etc. 2. The indicator for intellectual and cultural products, such as legal construction, social stability, construction of civilization, and newspaper subscription, etc. 3.A Party construction indicator, such as organization construction, democratic election, and publicity, etc. Apart fromwork assignments, these indicators are converted into scores for the assessment of work performance of various working units. Township governments face constant check all year round; especially at the end of each season or at the end of each year there are crowds of people to check their work.

Veto system plays a key role in township governments’ performance evaluation system. Twenty villages and townships implement the single-vote veto system to family planning. Eighteen villages and townships implement the single-vote veto system to comprehensive management of social security. Four villages and townships implement the single-vote veto system to government revenue. Some others also implement this system to Party conduct and integrity, farmers’ burden and farmers’petitions through letters and visits. Among plenty of assessment indicators, if the indicator relating to the single-vote veto system is not met, no matter how well other jobs have been fulfilled, this village has no chance of being awarded the name of advanced village, and the leaders of this village have no chance of being promoted, and furthermore their salaries and bonuses are also affected by the veto system indicators.

The respondents mentioned that the veto system does have an effect, but is also problematic. 1.The veto system makes everyone feel insecure. In order not to be vetoed, township leaders would force people to implement their instructions, which always provoke conflicts. 2.The veto system directly leads to falsification and formalism in work. 3.The veto system does not take special circumstances and historical issues into much consideration, because some issues are induced by former leaders and are left unsettled, and current leaders do not want to take the responsibility to resolve these problems.

Quantitative assessment, in the name of scientific working method, in fact has serious disadvantages. Some work can be quantified, but owing to insufficient assessment, quantitative assessment has become digital game, which can be falsified arbitrarily. However, more work cannot be quantified. So some funny things take place. More importantly, sometimes, no matter how excellent the performance appraisal is, the result of quantitative assessment is up to the relationships with assessors. The county and township leaders all know this secret, but they pretend not to know anything about it. When some senior leaders discuss the assessment issues, they could easily change the assessment result.

II. Accountability arrangements within the township governments

There is a set of assessment and incentive provisions within township governments. The methods of internal assessment for twenty townships are divided into two types. The first type is relatively simple. The basic way goes like this. Individual performance or a certain job is awarded excellent, qualified, or unqualified based on the percentage of grades. Five villages adopt this method.

The second type is concrete and detailed. There is a complete set of procedures and scoring methods. Five villages adopt this method. These villages are also divided into two types. One is focusing on assessment indicators and the result of work. The other is very detailed. They not only evaluate the result of work, but also evaluate detailed working process, especially including daily performance. Take the assessment of leaders of township government for example. The first type of assessment mainly focuses on whether they have finished their assignments, such as how many acres of greenhouse vegetables they have developed, how many self-employed workers they have helped, how many labors they have dispatched, etc. when they finish one job, they will obtain certain scores. The second type focuses on, apart from their fulfillment of working indicators, other issues such as how many days they have stayed in villages, how many villager meetings have been held, and how they have performed in villages, etc. All leaders of township governments find that the assessment has become more and more detailed.

The following is an assessment method of a village located in Shandong province. The assessment forwork responsibility fulfilled by each individual at his post implements percentile system. 1.Vocational workload accounts for forty points. For example, a family planning official is asked to meet six requirements and one of them is that the deduction of points for yearly assessment of vocational workload should be controlled within two points. If deduction of points exceeds one point each time, then it will be deducted two points. If serious problems arise from inspection, which produces a bad influence on counties and townships, ten points will be deducted. If it has an adverse impact, twenty points will be deducted. 2.Major business accounts for twenty points. Those who do not attend activities without proper reasons held by Party committee or government will be deducted one point and their working units will be deducted half a point. If units make failures in collection of taxes and charges, and meeting inspection groups, then two points will be deducted. If individuals make mistakes, then individuals will be deducted two points and their working units will be deducted one point at the same time. 3.Sanitary inspection accounts for ten points. 4.Appraisal accounts for thirty points. Regulations of the rewards and punishment go like this: the result of assessment is related to salary. All those who participate in assessment will be deducted a hundred yuan per month as risk salary. When it comes to yearly assessment, if individuals are deducted one point, then one percentage of risk salary will be deducted. But, those leaders under the survey believe that the motivation of village leaders does not improve along with the increasingly strict assessment system.

III. The center of accountability system

The accountability system of township governments has two basic points. One is stability. The bottom line is no group incidents and no petition beyond permission. The other is development. The bottom line is salaries paid on time and government in normal operation. Based on this, the faster the development speed is, the better the government is. Among development indicators, the major ones are the increase of farmers’ income and governments’ fiscal revenue. Many townships leaders said that the per capita income of farmers is not that important in their eyes, but the fiscal revenue of township governmentsreally carries weight. If a government has no money, wages cannot be paid, and wheels of cars cannot move, and telephone cannot ring again. This is very painful experience. Therefore, the focus of township governments’ work is government revenue.

Township governmentsare most active about projects. There are two main types of projects. The first type is investment attraction project. This type occupies a crucial position in government’s assessment at various levels. County-level cities set a mandatory quota for counties, and counties set an mandatory quota for villages. Some even say that investment attraction is the only criteria for theevaluation of working performance or for the selection of cadres. In some townships, the government requires all personnel to get involved in investment projects. If they cannot reach the goal, they will be removed from office. Thus, the competition for investment projects has become extremely fierce. The condition of competition is always related to land. Some governments even offered land to developers with little charge in order to get investment projects. The second type is asking for projects from higher authorities. These projects are mainly related to governmental special appropriation and governmental direct investment projects. At present, projects like returning cultivated land to forests, hydraulic engineering, and farmers’ vocational training are all the key projects. If governments are given these projects, they could increase governmental revenue and do some other business to get substantial benefits. For example, subsidies for returning cultivated land to forests can be converted into famers’ taxes and administrative chargesand be kept in governments’ pocket.

Township governments also pay attention to promoting industrial structure adjustment, such as developing cash crops and expanding animal husbandry, etc. The increase of governments’ income is based on the increase farmers’ income. However, there are many lessons in previous years.For example, farmers cannot sell their agro-products that township governments have encouraged them to cultivateor to breed and farmers feel rather resentful about that and refuse to pay their taxes and charges. Consequently, township governments are much more cautious about these issues.

A township government is a grass-roots government that renders direct service to farmers. In view of the rural situation, the arrangement of the accountability system should highlight the participation of and supervision by farmers. But, the current accountability system mainly reflects the constraints and requirements imposed by higher-level governmentsover grassroots governments, which closely runs in a top-down government system. This fact has made farmers become onlookers. Obviously, the lack of social participation in the process of accountability has made the system go astray from the normal goal. That is why we have the term of adverse accountability, which is the root cause resulting to some grassroots governments’ neglect of their duties and their misconduct.

In a market-oriented economy, such a complex and huge government internal assessment system is outdated. The task of grassroots governmentsis to provide public goods whereas they have to get prepared for the assessment by higher authorities. Township governments work for assessment, and sometimes they really do something beneficial for farmers. But in some cases they are busy for assessment, which has no business to do with farmers. Sometimes their work even becomes obstacles restricting the development of rural areas. Some leaders of township governmentsadmit that their work actually brought trouble to farmers. Generally speaking, this kind of accountability does not take grassroots social needs into consideration, and is divorced from the participation of farmers.As a result, the government performance has nothing to do with rural development. During our survey, a county Party secretarytold us that the current government management is much more rigid than thetime of the planned economy. However, this seemingly strict management system, in terms of standardizing the behavior of government staff, is weak and feeble.


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