context: Amid expectations for a new round of institutional reform, the media turn to the person with the most authority over Party organisation and staffing: the director of the Central Institutional Organisation Commission. He provides the clearest account so far of the Party’s goals for reform.

Central authorities aim both to improve top-level design and to advance devolution, reports Yicai. In an article published end 2017, Zhang Jinan 张纪南 Central Institutional Organisation Commission director interpreted the significance and key tasks of the institutional reform.

Executing the decisions of the ruling party, Party and state organs and administrators should strengthen Party leadership through reform and guarantee Party authority in all aspects of public institutions, argued Zhang. Government faces growing demands for not only for material goods but also intangibles including participation, security and environment; institutional structures and functions should shake up to better reflect the shifting social trends, he contended. As the third plenum of the 18th Party Congress pledged to make the market play a decisive role while strengthening the state, reform is needed to draw lines between the domains of state, market and society, continued Zhang.

Zhang spoke at length about state and society, continues the report, emphasising

  • getting government out of the way by further streamlining application processes while improving precision and coordination
  • balancing limits on the state with effective supervision: the state’s role should focus on ex post facto supervision and fair market order
  • service-oriented government
    • standards for administrative procedures, behaviour, application timetable and discretion
    • accelerating internet+ governance for fair, transparent and predictable market environment

Zhang also discussed central–local relations. Institutions at different levels should have clearly separate functions, he said, with local authorities given more room for direct management in order to improve efficiency. He spelled out the role of each level

  • centre: major decision-making and top-level design
  • province: planning and management through formulating law and policy, standardising regulations and supervision and inspection
  • county: policy implementation, law enforcement and services for enterprises and the public

Sub-national Party and state organs sharing similar functions have made progress in merging or cooperating in shared offices, continued Zhang, paving the way for comprehensive reorganisation at the central level. Separation of supervision from management is necessary for effective operations, he added. But with so many interests at stake, Zhang warned, institutional reform will be difficult to carry through.