Friday, February 6, 2009

Translating Central Policy into Local (in)Action

Despite its having been piloted in three provinces (later extended to another 10 or so) over the past year, the new nationwide policy of "home appliances to the countryside" has suffered some difficulties in implementation.

Today's SCMP offers anecdotal evidence that some farmers are having difficulty getting rebates on appliances they bought months earlier.
Under the programme, suppliers offered tenders for the right to participate in the scheme, and farmers had to buy their appliances from designated retail outlets to qualify for the rebate. But policy loopholes, bureaucratic inertia and lax oversight are making it very hard for the scheme's intended recipients to reap the benefits and farmers, retailers and officials are blaming one another for the programme's failings.

One of the farmers' complaints is that lower-level governments have little interest in implementing the scheme.
This highlights a common problem in which the Central Government promulgates a policy and then leaves implementation details to lower levels of government. While the costs of rebates are intended to be split 80/20 between Central and Local Governments, apparently no one in Beijing thought to ask whether the cities and provinces could afford to cough up their shares of the cash. Obviously some local governments are more willing than others.

Some fingers have also been pointed at participating retailers:
Higher-than-expected numbers of subsidy applications drained the fund in November and December, according to one Chongzhou (Sichuan) commerce official, as well as deception by some retailers. The Chongzhou government felt forced to pay the subsidies out of its own budget.

"The retailers collected many farmers' identification cards and used them to apply for the subsidies, but they did not sell as many electronic products as they claimed," the official said.
I suppose in this regard, China really is no different from any other country. Government programs, regardless of how well-intentioned, open windows of opportunity for corruption.

This illustrates the difficulty of implementing policies in China. It is comparatively easy for the State Council to debate and craft a policy, but translating that policy into real action where the Local State touches the people often proves more difficult.

Some scholars claim that the Communist Party's nomenklatura system of Party appointments and promotions helps to keep lower level officials in line: they listen to their superiors because they want to be promoted. But this discipline apparently does not reach into the lower depths of government.