Unrestrained and outspoken
Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) members often outshine National People’s Congress (NPC) deputies when both meet annually in their national sessions. For their greater freedom in political and social life, many CPPCC members have become known for their outspokenness.
On March 3, 2012, the 11th CPPCC Committee started its 5th session in Beijing. Looking back over the past five years, some CPPCC members commented on the changes seen in their organization.
A greater say for CPPCC members
During a panel discussion by Chinese KMT Revolutionary Committee members on March 4, 2008, a white-haired member exclaimed: “No reform is completed in one day. It takes time to develop a transparent budget, for sure. But we should not wait for too long. We must seize the day and seize the hour. I’ve been looking forward to it so anxiously that my hair has turned white now!”
This member was Jiang Hong, a finance professor at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, who specializes in the study of government budget control. During the annual session in 2010, Jiang voiced his complaint time and again about State-owned banks giving their senior management members bonuses amounting to as much as 500 million Yuan. For three years running, he has submitted proposals calling for an open and transparent government budget and has voted against the central government’s budget report every year.
Cai Jiming, a CPPCC member and director of the Tsinghua University Centre of Political Economics Study, has also been widely acknowledged as one of the most dissentient voices during the annual NPC and CPPCC sessions. He has also become a frequent target of criticism and condemnation for his outspokenness. Most of the proposals he has submitted so far have dealt with people’s livelihood. He has called for increased protection for farmers who have lost their land, and decried the housing benefits granted to civil servants. “In name, these people are provided affordable housing. In actuality, they get apartments even more luxurious than commodity houses,” Cai once pointed out.
Where there is perseverance, there is hope. This has been the common belief among CPPCC members. In 1998, for instance, Wang submitted a proposal promoting compulsory education among all Chinese citizens. It went down like a lead balloon. The following year, he changed his strategy. He kept to the issue of compulsory education, but narrowed its coverage to involve only rural children. He raised this issue year after year. Ten years later, compulsory education was established as a national policy by Premier Wen Jiabao in his government work report.
“We will submit our proposal once again next year if it is not adopted this year,” Wang said. “We will feel happy when our proposals are adopted. Sometimes, our proposals would be rated as getting off the point, although we may think highly of them. In such cases, we would submit them once again.”
More said than done?
Thanks to the importance attached by different ministries and commissions, as well as the proposal processing mechanism installed by the CPPCC National Committee, a growing number of proposals put forward by CPPCC members have been adopted and executed in recent years. In 2010, the Proposal Committee of the CPPCC National Committee worked out a list of key proposals. Covering 110 fields, these proposals would be closely watched for implementation. Also, the General Office and the Proposal Committee of the CPPCC National Committee collaborated with the proposal submitters and the target institutions to carry out 25 joint studies and consultations.
According to established conventions, the institution targeted by a CPPCC proposal must respond to the submitter in writing, through face to face engagement, or by telephone. Some CPPCC members have complained, however, that while they have often received responses to their proposals, there has been less progress in actually implementing the discussed proposal.
According to the figures disclosed to the media in 2011 by Mao Linkun, the deputy director of the Proposal Committee of the CPPCC National Committee, only about one sixth of the proposals his committee received in the year were turned from words to deeds.
To improve the situation, during the 11th National Committee the CPPCC initiated a new practice: inviting leaders of pertinent ministries and commissions to its head office in Beijing to brief its members on the latest developments in their respective fields before the start of each annual session.
A greater role to play
Unlike NPC deputies who must be elected, all CPPCC members are recommended in line with the Charter of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. For this reason, it is commonly believed that CPPCC membership is nothing but an honorary title. Also, their passive participation in the council of state affairs has led outsiders to question their real contribution and role.
Originally, the CPPCC was created to play two roles: democratic supervision and political consultation. At the second plenary session of its 8th National Committee in March 1994, the CPPCC amended its charter to read: “Apart from performing its chief role in political consultation and democratic supervision, the CPPCC will organize its member political parties, mass organizations and personages of various nationalities from all circles of the society to take part in the council of state affairs.” This was the first time the CCPPCC articulated its role in the council of state affairs. Ever since then, participation in the council of state affairs, political consultation, and democratic supervision have been established as the three top roles assigned to the CPPCC.
In February 2006, the Opinion of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on Strengthening the Role of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference was released. The Opinion called for in-depth engagement of the CPPCC in the council of state affairs, and urged Party committees and governments at all levels to strengthen their ties and communication with the CPPCC and create an excellent climate for the latter’s participation in the council in state affairs. It was also reiterated in the work report of the 17th Congress of the Community Party of China that political consultation should be included as a major link in the decision-making process and that the mechanism of democratic supervision should be further strengthened to reap real results from CPPCC participation in the council of state affairs.
It is precisely for the special role assigned to the CPPCC that its members have come to word their proposals in a more critical manner. Some Party and government leaders have become more willing to express themselves once they become CPPCC members. In this sense, the role played by CPPCC members is irreplaceable when compared with the role of NPC deputies or current Party or government leaders.
This might explain why some people have come to pin a higher hope on the CPPCC. Some scholars have even suggested promotion of CPPCC membership into a professional occupation, arguing that such promotion will allow the CPPCC to play a bigger role and increase their weight in the government decision-making process. In Cai Jiming’s eye, however, the most important thing to do at present is not professionalize CPPCC membership. “First things first,” he argues, referring to the roles assigned to the CPPCC in the Constitution, namely, participation in the council of state affairs and exercise of democratic supervision.
Liu Jun is reporter for Southern Weekly,this is a commentary originally appeared on Southern Weekly.