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China trims fat from meetings
Publication Date : 13-03-2013
It is a mouthful to say the National People's Congress (NPC) or the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), but China's annual political meetings have become shorter and simpler in most ways.
For one thing, both bodies have scaled back their meetings.
The legislative session, which opened on March 5 and closes this Sunday, will be a day shorter than the 2008 meeting, the last time a leadership change occurred.
The CPPCC, which opened on March 3 and closed yesterday, also cut one day from its usual schedule.
For another, they have cut out things good to look at but not essential to have: the potted plants, big banners and red carpets synonymous with big events in China.
Ditto fish and prawn for lunch, lengthy road closures, souvenirs and even bottled water. Instead, many delegates have to get water from the dispenser or wait for the tea ladies to top up their mugs.
Even celebrations held amid the liang hui or "two meetings" like those for International Women's Day last Friday, were kept simple.
At a lunch for female delegates, Guangdong party chief Hu Chunhua toasted them with tea instead of wine.
The cost-cutting measures are part of a new edict by top leader Xi Jinping to clamp down on things like lavish banquets, a move that has eaten into the bottom lines of high-end restaurants.
Delegates who spoke to The Straits Times were all for the new measures though.
"It's a good idea not to be wasteful," said Guangxi NPC delegate Wei Feiyan.
She noted that there was no welcome ceremony or flower bouquets for delegates upon their arrival this year.
And in place of banquets are now buffet-style meals with simple fare like fried eggs with tomatoes or cabbage with vinegar.
Many also tried not to leave any food behind. Nobel prize-winning author Mo Yan, a CPPCC member, finished up his lunch of soup, vegetables, corn and duck leg, reported Hong Kong's Wen Wei Po newspaper.
Organisers also cut down on printed paper and put some information online instead.
A CPPCC staff said this has helped them save 2 million yuan (US$319,000).
The drive to be economical extends to the length of meetings and speeches too.
At the meeting of the Hong Kong delegation last Wednesday, those who spoke tried to keep it to seven or at most 10 minutes.
One representative, Yan Baoling, who busted the limit, got a reminder from delegation chief Maria Tam: "How much more time do you need? Baoling, you're a new delegate, I'd let you finish."
Heilongjiang lawmaker Chen Shutao said he noticed more meat to this year's discussions, which have become more focused.
"There are fewer empty words, more suggestions from the delegates," he told The Straits Times.
He fully embraced the call for frugality.
"Extravagance has long been the problem of our party. It can really kill the party. We should have done something like this 20 years ago, but it's better late than never."
But some wonder if the austerity drive has gone too far.
Some reporters complain of how organisers are stinting even on placards bearing the names of delegates, making it tough for them to find out who is speaking.
The key is not to blindly cut time or cost, but make sure that policy matters are properly debated, said the Southern Metropolitan Daily in an editorial.
With so many important decisions on affairs affecting a large number of people to be made at these meetings, these are processes that will take time, it said.
"A meeting that stresses frugality should emphasise effectiveness even more," it added.