Friday, December 6, 2013, 08:31
Social organizations to become independent
By He Dan

China’s trade and professional associations will become independent from government agencies by 2015, the head of the nation’s top authorities that oversee social organizations announced on Thursday.   

The reform, intended to boost the dynamics of social organizations, is expected to start in about 100 national trade and professional associations in January, said Li Liguo, minister of civil affairs, at a news conference in Beijing.

Li said his ministry is conducting a reform plan jointly with other government departments, including the National Development and Reform Commission.

Reform on trade and professional associations was articulated in March as a part of the State Council’s plan to transform government functions to reduce administrative intervention in the market and in social issues.

Yang Tuan, an expert with the Social Policy Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that giving more autonomy to social organizations is vital for the new leadership’s reform agenda, which aims to give civil societies a bigger role in social governance.

There were more than 70,000 trade and professional associations and chambers of commerce as of 2012, according to the ministry’s statistics.

“Currently, most trade and professional associations are either founded by government, or their leadership positions are taken by governmental officials or retirees. So it’s hard for them to get rid of bureaucracy,” Yang said.

“Sometimes these organizations are dubbed ‘a quasigovernment’,” she said, adding that the public often criticized these social organizations for lack of independence and quality services for their members.

Shen Yan, the general manager of a wedding dress factory in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, said he canceled membership in a local clothing trade association because he found it “useless”.

“The association just organized one gathering in a year. It gave me no information on improving the means of purchasing materials or expanding sales channels,” he said.

However, divorcing the government is the first — but not the only — step toward providing quality service for members, said Zhou Zaifeng, a publicity and research official from the China Paper Industry Chamber of Commerce.

Zhou said his chamber is independent and all its leaders are entrepreneurs selected by its nearly 300 members.

But the organization still faces difficulties delivering services to meet the expectations of its members.

“Our organization tries to act as a bridge between the government and companies by speaking out about the challenges and policy barriers that impede company development, but sometimes, we lack the power to sway the government,” he said.

Civil Affairs Minister Li Liguo said the government will also further boost the development of social organizations by revising the registration and management regulations and simplifying registration procedures.

As mentioned in the State Council’s reconstruction plan unveiled in March, non-governmental organizations have been allowed to register directly with civil affairs authorities.

This has eliminated the requirement to be pre-examined and approved by other regulators if the organizations fall into four categories — industrial associations, charities, community services or organizations promoting technology.

As of September, China was home to more than 511,000 social organizations, which boast fixed assets of 195 billion yuan ($32 billion) and provided jobs for about 12.18 million people, according to the ministry.