SEPA head resigned, but the organization problem has not been solved

7) Update(Dec 10): According to Asiaweek, Xie was indeed a scapegoat. Jilin Province even asked Xie to hold the information from the State Council. Central Propaganda Ministry should also ge held responsible for the media censorship.

6) Update(Dec 7): It was reported Wang Wei jumped from his apartment after he met with his superior, and rumour has it that a letter was written before he jumped. Could he be asked to should all the responsibility by his superior? Could the letter (if exist) show us who the (other)real culprits are?
Note: there are usually several deputy mayor in each city, each is responsible for different funtions. Wang's responsibility include "industry" and "work safety". He was at the scene of explosion and in charge of the fire-fighting. He also announced there was no leak/pollution right after the fire. Wang was promoted to the position last year, after the department store fire disaster.
IHT reports on the special investigsation commission.

China's State Environment Protection Adminstration (SEPA) Xie Zhenhua resigned, after the Songhua River fiasco.

As the head of SEPA, he has the responsiblity in monitoring the pollution and coordinate between provinces (Jilin and Heilongjiang). However, is he the chief culprit for the fiasco? Would a diligent SEPA solve the problem in future?

Some background on China's bureacracy ladder system, it works more or less like military ranks. i.e. each official has a rank, whether his position is with the geographic or functional responsibility. Here we are looking at how functional responsibility (SEPA) interacts with geographic responsibility (Jilin Province, Jilin City, Heilongjiang Province & Harbin City). Another complication is a third dimension in this matix, the CNPC faction of power, which, as State Owned Enterprise (SOE), also is ranked in the hierarchy

  • Province governors and party secretaries (and certain major cities like Harbin and Changchun) are equivalent of Bu ("Ministry", 部), so the provincial heads are equal in rank with Ministers (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing are regarded as provincial ranks)
  • SEPA was a Ju ("Administration", 局), but in 1998 its status was promoted to be equivalent to the Minister level in China's bureacracy ladder
    • However, even within all the ministers, there are big minister and small ministers. SEPA's head, 'newly elevated' to become a minister, is a small and junior minister
    • e.g., Guangdong is a lot "bigger" than Hainan (so is its leader's seniority). Governor of Hainan Wang Qishan was "promoted" to become Mayor of Beijing in 2003 after the mayor was fired, even though his rank remains as 'minister'

Now, how do you expect a less senior bureaucrat to mediate between two heavy-weight officials, and those you are dealing with could become Deputy Prime Minister any time? This is what I found from an internet post, roughly recapped in English below (italic)

  • CNPC is probably at the deputy minister level, the General Manager is at most half a rank lower that the (senior) minister level of Jilin Provincial Governor, and perhaps more senior since the CNPC is more "meaty"
  • SEPA in Beijing does not control Jilin Province (as I said above, Mr Xie is a less senior minister)
  • The local SEPA (provincial level) is always one level more junior (in rank) than the governors and mayors
  • Since the local SEPA was unable to tell the governors or mayors (in this case even the enterprises) what to do, and SEPA head is junior to the Provincial head and hence unable to mediate, the system failed
  • The fact that we knew the truth was basically a result of "no other alternative" from Heilongjiang's part. So it first told a so-called "white lie" of cleaning ducts, then rumours leak and it was forced to tell the truth
  • 各位网友我来说句,如果觉得在理请支持一下。这个事件的处理的种种令人费解的现象,起源于一个现行的大型国有企业的官阶制度。中石油至少是副部级单位,他们的老总和吉林省长最多差半格,而所属又是中直,所以地方管不了,而国家早就取消了企业的行政级别,可是象中石油这样的大型国企的一把手是从政府官员中选拔的,而当初人家是正部级或副部级干部,你让人家当企业领导就好像亏了他,(实际不亏,因为企业比机关工资高,但不是旱涝保收,不过目前还没有哪个特大型国有企业的老大开不出工资)所以作为安抚只好答应人家继续保留行政级别,这样一个部级单位有谁敢管,地方的环保局即使发现问题也不敢过问,而国家的环保局又不能监控到吉林。出了爆炸这样的事,吉林也不敢大肆张扬,因为人家是中直企业,人家是专家,自然石化系统说没有污染就是没有了,所以只能忍气吞声,默默地告诉自己的属地管好自己的人看好自己的门,又在几天后权衡事情太大没办法隐瞒,而且一旦隐瞒弄不好要出人命,所以就在五天后通知哈尔滨。而哈尔滨的同僚接了烫山芋之后,不敢怠慢马上去采样,一化验确实有事,但是不敢公布,因为人家吉林都没有张扬,这里有什么猫腻哈尔滨不了解,所以还是低调处理,暂且说维护吧,可是没想到反而引起了恐慌,没办法了纸里包不住火呀,只好如实说了,这才惊动国务院领导。要想彻底解决这样的问题,只有彻底取消行政级别,彻底取消省直、中直这种区域划分,这样监管起来全部依法办事。你只要是一个企业,就要服从环保局监管,环保局和审计局这样执法部门应该见官大半级,就像古代的钦差,直接归国务院任免,这样出了污染就很好找到责任人,出了事大家就不用考虑你是哪里的来头,都一切公事公办。如果这样还出现污染那就很容易发现就是环保局的责任。国务院就有责任换一届环保局的局长。大家说对么?

The poster went on to suggest China to abolish the ranking system so as to clarify accountability and responsibility. I am not sure I agree with him about the solution, but he was certainly right that if SEPA did not have the power it should not be held accountable.

IMO this is an organization problem. There are merits for the rank system, and there are other solution that make this matrix organization which work. Again, one of the solutions is to use the appriasal system to make sure that the provincial head will fully support the works of the functional departments at the local level. This requires the performance evaluation of provincial governors and mayors to receive input from functional units such as SEPA, and from officials at lower ranks. Holding those responsible for the current incidence will also create a precedence, but the Jilin Provincial head bears bigger responsibility than Mr Xie.



1) Many dubious links of Jilin's provincial party heads to CNPC and Jilin Petrochemical have been reported. But I am giving them the benefit of doubt at this point of time.

2) When Wen Jiabao was in Harbin, a women told him "Thanks to the party and the government, you have us in your heart." Wen immediately said, "You have got this in reverse. It should be the party and the government to express thank to you, thank for your understanding, support and cooperation." (在慰问群众时,67岁的老人杜继亮的大女儿说,“我们的生活井井有条,社会秩序也很好。谢谢党和政府,把群众放在心裹。”温总立即予以纠正说,“你这话要倒过来说,应该是党和政府谢谢你们,谢谢群众的理解、支持和配合。”) The reporter went on to say, the promotion system for officials is still from top-down, they do not have to be responsible to the people. It such top-down approach is not changed. How many of them would listen to Premier Wen's words? (目前,中国官员的选拔、升迁仍然还是上面说了算,因此,官员并不需对人民负责。如果不改变这种“唯上不唯下”的体制,温总感谢群众、向群众说明事实真相的指示,究竟有多少官员听得入耳呢?)

3) Update (Bonus): For the famous Chinese song "On Songhua River", rightclick to download or see here. It was composed after Japan invaded Manchuria. The lyric starts by painting the beautiful picture of Songhua River "My home is on Songhua River in the Northeast, there are forest, coal, and bean and sorghum covering the mountains and fields..."

4) Update(Dec 5): GM of Jilin Petrochemical, Yu Li was fired. (see also here) But there must be someone in Jilin province who forced Harbin to tell the 'white lie'?

5) Update(Dec 6): Deputy Mayor of Jilin City, Wang Wei, was found dead at home yesterday. Likely a suicide case. But shouldn't the Provincial head and the Mayor be responsible for thess tragedies? Meanwhile, State Council set up a special investigation commission to "follow up on the responsiblity of related enterprise,s departments and units". This commission is headed by the Director of State Administration of Work Safety (SAWF), Li Yizhong, a ministry ranked official like Mr Xie. (It was of depute-minister rank before Feb 2005). I believe he will look at the Qitaishan Coal Mine accident on the way. Some media reports have point the responsibility to Deputy Party Secretary of Jilin Province, Wang Yunkun, who had served at Jilin Petrochemical in the past.


1 comment:

Tom - Daai Tou Laam said...

I'd have to dig around to find old links, but I'm pretty sure that SEPA and Xie had made a few enemies in the last year / year and a half in the energy production/industrial production world.

A possible thread to explore in this is the development projects that SEPA vetoed in the last year and a half and whether there is some connections to this incident.

My own gut instinct on Xie's firing was that it wasn't just a matter of him being a scapegoat, but that a particular faction already had him targetted and was waiting for information to use against him to eliminate his opposition to their development projects.