China Focus: Top-down inspection -- China's "secret weapon" for governance

CHANGCHUN, Aug. 11 -- Rule a huge country like China requires effective governance.

One that has been used more often than ever over the past five years is to send inspection teams to ensure that policies transmit smoothly from the very top to the public.

State Council inspection teams have just returned from checking whether local governments were following cabinet orders to cut red tape, lower administrative cost for businesses and provide incentives to start-ups, among others.

Inspectors visited companies, communities and city halls, and held talks with entrepreneurs, researchers and lower-ranking cadres. Hotlines were set up to hear anonymous complaints.

In Jilin Province, inspectors learned from a leasing firm's financial executive that start-up companies need permission from the People's Bank of China before they can open a bank account.

The 15-day process is time-consuming as many other business approvals have been abandoned or are moving much faster.

Gao Yong, a mid-level inspector with the Ministry of Land Resources, consulted the local branch of the People's Bank of China.

"When we realized that the local government couldn't solve the problem, we decided to take it to the State Council," Gao said.

The State Council will investigate the issue at the national level and find out it if necessary, Gao said.

The inspectors also made a surprise visit to the county of Lishu, for example, following the complain from a member of the public about fees. While they were there, they met local entrepreneurs and listened to their difficulties in getting loans.

"Reform has entered a critical period. Inspections ensure that policies are enforced," said You Jun, head of the Jilin inspection team.

Jiang Chunli, the boss of a food trading company in Lishu, was one of those the team spoke to.

He said the top-down inspection by the State Council would help leading officials understand how their policies were working and hear the "real voices" of those at the sharp end.

Inspectors found plenty of problems.

A steel-maker in Hunan Province was found to be still churning out steel bars, flagrantly flouting a production ban, while many factories nationwide had been ordered to close for making inferior products.

The Hunan factory has now been closed and some officials have been sacked.

To give the inspection teeth, the State Council has promised extra commendations and resources -- funds, projects and land -- for local governments that are doing well.

The State Council launched this kind of inspection in 2014, following the long-standing practice of the Communist Party of China Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI). Corrupt officials now live in fear and tremble in front of the discipline agency.

Since late 2012, there have been twelve rounds of CCDI inspection. All entities -- Party and government departments, state-owned enterprises, central financial institutions and centrally-administered universities -- have been put under disciplinary microscope.

The high-frequency of inspection shows one aspect of the relentless anti-graft campaign. In the past five years, 50 percent of investigations into central officials came through the findings of CCDI inspectors.

Environmental inspectors are also making the headlines.

They have pursued businesses and entities which break environmental laws, strengthening otherwise weak local environmental protection agencies.

The inspection system has proven effective in preventing graft and in protecting the environment, and is expected to be used more extensively.

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