ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Beijing unveils plan to abolish rail ministry
Publication Date : 11-03-2013
Several times they have tried, each time they have failed.
But this time, China's leaders look set to abolish the powerful Railways Ministry, viewed by some as an independent kingdom with its own army of railway police - and a hotbed of corruption.
Beijing yesterday unveiled a plan to abolish the Railways Ministry, signalling the resolve of Communist Party chief Xi Jinping and incoming Premier Li Keqiang to take on a body that has stoutly resisted reform for over a decade.
In the early 2000s, the then economic csar Zhu Rongji and outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao had both attempted to do away with the agency but failed, noted Peking University political observer Zhang Jian.
"If the Xi-Li leadership succeeds, it will be a sign of their ability to take on power factions. It will send the public a message that the new government is a strong government," he added.
Dissolving the ministry is part of Beijing's broader plan unveiled yesterday to restructure its ministries to clamp down on graft and inefficiency.
It also reflects the new leaders' readiness to crack the whip if any agency gets out of line.
According to the proposal presented at a meeting of the national legislature, the Railways Ministry will be split up.
Its regulatory function will be handed over to the Ministry of Transport and its commercial operations run by a new company, China Railway Corp.
This finally subjects the railways sector to the same standards as other key sectors like aviation and energy, which have their regulatory and operating functions separated.
This "is part of China's efforts to streamline the transport-related work into one ministry", said Beijing-based observer Li Fan.
But he cautioned that the Railways Ministry's work is so huge that "in reality, the staff will still be doing the same job for a long time as integration will take years to accomplish".
Railways Minister Sheng Guangzu told reporters yesterday that even after the restructuring, the government will continue investing on its rail network.
China, which has built the world's longest high-speed rail and is expanding its network, has earmarked some 650 billion yuan (US$103 billion) for rail-related investment this year.
Its massive building spree so far has chalked up 2.66 trillion yuan in debt.
The ministry has also suffered scandals like the ousting of its former chief Liu Zhijun from the Communist Party over corruption charges in 2011. Liu was one of the officials held responsible for a horrific high-speed rail crash near southern Wenzhou city in 2011 that left 40 dead. A government investigation blamed it on design problems and mismanagement.
Within a few hours of the report that the Railways Ministry would be done away with, over 4 million netizens had posted online comments, many of them celebratory.
"This is a big action, may it make China stronger!" said netizen Xiaoye, expressing hopes that rail ticket prices would be made more affordable.