The Power of Appraisal The widely employed accountability system of “veto items,” which has become dogged by abuses and the widespread shirking of responsibility, has been singled out for attack by political pundits and the public alike
Photo by cfp
By Min Jie
Police in Jingdezhen city, Jiangxi Province, catalog counterfeit invoices, June 17,2011. Cracking down on such scams can, in some local jurisdictions, take priority over all other police work.
n the past months, a host of factors such as increased automobile usage, increased coal consumption due to cold weather and a low pressure zone over China’s northern and eastern regions combined to make China’s already appalling urban air pollution hit record highs week after week. In the face of a widespread public outcry, officials across the country reiterated their determination to curb air pollution. In many cities, leaders vowed to hold relevant officials accountable for failing to meet environmental protection targets. Many pledges have been made, and now the public is
waiting for action.
Yang Weize, Party secretary of Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu Province, vowed to make carbon emissions targets a “paramount factor” in appraising the performance of local cadres. His pledge, following the example of Beijing officials, while probably attrctive to the ears of both his superiors and the public, is actually a continuation of the so-called “veto item” policy employed by governments at various levels in dealing with urgent crises.
By including an issue into the extant appraisal system for local government officials and identifying it as a “veto issue,” higher-level governments can essentially deflect responsibility onto lower-level governments. These governments are then expected to make the issue in question a priority in their work, as failure to meet an imposed target will cause overall performance to be deemed an abject failure, ruining the careers of local leaders. The underlying logic to this common practice within the Party is that by singling out a hot-button issue, be it corruption, air pollution or GDP growth, as the sole yardstick by which official performance is evaluated, said officials will devote themselves to resolving this particular issue successfully, winning a PR boost in the process. However, political analysts now argue that this simplistic approach has become counterproductive. Not only has it failed to solve the issues it was supposedly aimed at tackling, the single-minded pursuit of certain stats often breeds neglect and even corruption among officials in areas in which they are judged less harshly. “‘Veto items’ were designed to push lowerlevel governments to do their jobs well on toppriority issues, but in reality, this policy has backfired,” Professor Wang Yukai, vice-director of the China Society for Administrative Reform, told NewsChina. “Not only have some local governments, under extreme pressure, had to fake their accomplishments, but many have chosen to bend laws and regulations to suit their own ends in their efforts to meet their targets.” The most obvious example of this contradiction is social stability – a priority for local governments in every Chinese province. In the past decade, as complaints and resentment among ordinary citizens over a variety of social problems have continued to mount, the State Council issued a 2001 decree making social stability an official veto item. While the decree’s wording encouraged officials to tackle problems such as protests over forced demolition, abuse of power by police and cadres and workers’ disputes by investigating the source of these grievances, many officials instead chose to resort to heavy-handed tactics and brute force to suppress dissent. Under the terms laid out by the State Council, official evaluations begin by examining how many petitions and official complaints have been filed in a local government jurisdiction. Should this number be judged to be unacceptCHINA WEEKLY I March 2013
April 2013 Issue