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Social Reforms Launched in Guangdong Province to Address New Contradictions

Starting from 1 January 2012, Guangzhou municipal government has repealed one major administrative hurdle for eight types of social organisations (non-government organisations) to secure official registration for operation. Known as ‘de-regulation of social organisations’, this will be extended to Guangdong province by 1 July this year meaning social organisations can directly apply for official registration with the Ministry of Civil Affairs without mandatorily seeking the prior approval or affiliation to a government or party body as the supervisory unit. The latter has been blamed for being an effective block to suffocate the development of civil society organisations in China. Now a social organisation needs only to file an application with the Ministry of Civil Affairs according to the requirements, pass the appraisal and wait for the registration result. Instead of being the supervisory unit, a relevant ‘nodal organisation’ will act as the registered NGO’s ‘caretaking unit’, providing advices and guidances to support the organisation’s development. Since January more than 30 new organisations have succeeded in getting official registration in Guangzhou municipality, most of them are charity, social work and service organisations.

De-regulation of NGOs and Marketisation of Social Services
Official registration, financial sustainability and staff turnover are three major challenges suffered by the NGOs in China. The opening of civil society organisation registration, regarded as a feature of the Guangdong Reform Model, marks their institutionalisation, and the transition of social service provisions from government to civil society organisations, recognising the efficiency of spontaneous, bottom-up organisations in delivering social services compared to the government bureaucracy. De-regulation of NGOs implies the retreat of the direct participation and administration of the government in the operation of the NGOs. Known as ‘transiting social organisations from the planned economy to comply with the market-based economy’, the monopolisation by a single authorised organisation in a particular social sector, a feature of the Party-State’s domination under the planned economy, shall be replaced by diversification. Multiple organisations are allowed in six categories namely charity, culture, education, sports, public hygiene and environment to promote competition and better service provision. To ensure legal compliances, the registered social organisation will be subject to the joint administration by multiple government bodies, namely the Ministry of Civil Affairs for registration and appraisal, the Public Security Bureau, the Tax Bureau and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. This is followed by the promotion of the institutionalised civil society organisations, providing them with financial assistance through service procurement. The Social Affairs Committee has been set up under the provincial government in Guangdong to take leadership over the reform plan and coordinate the inclusion of academic and civil participation.

These de-regulation measures are steps taken to implement the ‘Social Administration Reform’ the provincial Secretary-General, Wang Yang, advocated in the 10th and 11th Plenary of the Provincial CPC. The Social Administration Reform refers to the renewed institutional approach of the Party and the State to address social relations which are challenged by new economic and labour contradictions, seeking expressions in various forms of social conflicts, such as conflicts between the migrant and local population, conflicts arising from infringement of land rights and interests within the community, as well as unrests amongst the young working population. Premier Wen Jiabao has reiterated support to the promotion and delegation of the provision of public and social services to the social organisations in March this yea[NOTE1]. Guangdong government is certainly the pioneer in launching the social reform in full sail. Back in 2009, Beijing Municipality had also explored the sub-contracting of social services to NGOs. This year the Beijing government has allocated RMB50 million to procure more than 300 social services from the NGOs. These are mostly basic social and community administration services, as well as information and social research services. NGOs have to apply or tender for service procurement through the 27 ‘nodal organisations’ in Beijing, meaning the traditional mass organisations and recognised social organisations that are authorised to form inter-regional federation of (member) organisations, namely the Disabled Persons’ Federation, the Women’s Federation, the Red Cross and the ACFTU. Jiangsu and other provinces have announced similar procurement plans. It is believed that de-regulation of social organizations, led by the government’s sub-contracting of social services will be enforced in different degree in more regions in the near future.

Social Administration Reform in Guangdong Province
In Guangdong province the rapid changes in the composition of the population brought by the migrant working population and their families has rendered the existing social service provision inadequate. The social reform in Guangdong province aims to address contradictions in two major areas, namely labour re-production ie the public health, social security, community services, education and child care etc for both local and migrant workers; and social relations by means of social work, counseling and social integration programs. The traditional administrative-driven social oragnisations including the trade unions are rendered obsolete as most of the young migrants do not have political affiliation and they are not members. Instead they have stronger identification with the brotherhood associations, affiliates from the same place of origin and the NGOs which the government estimates are growing by 10% in number every year. By the end of 2011, there are 30,535 registered social organizations, employing 420,000 people in Guangdong province[NOTE2]. About 60% of the registered organizations are grassroots organizations based below the county level, and their growth rate is even more rapid at 15% every year. These figures do not include the un-registered organizations, or social service organizations registered as limited companies in order to bypass the administrative control exercised on NGOs.

At the same time, the re-structuring of the Public Service Units (PSUs) has deepened which encourages those that are competitive in the market to privatise while maintaining the core services such as education. The provincial government of Guangdong just announced the freezing of the establishment of new PSUs and the provision of new public services by means of procurement from the social organisations[NOTE3]. By now more than 130 public services in Guangdong province including those previously provided by the PSUs such as professional skills training, verification etc have been transferred to the industrial and trade associations. PSUs that are providing social, charity services, or services listed in the procurement categories are also encouraged to re-structure themselves into social organisations to relieve the burden on public budget. In 2011, 9% of the registered social organisations in the province have service procurement contracts, sub-contracting 394 service projects of value RMB123.89 million from the government[NOTE4]. By the end of June this year, a new list of service procurement, tendering procedure and guidelines will be released by the provincial government.

New Regulatory Role of the Traditional Mass Organisations
The trend of sub-contracting is not limited to public and social services originally provided by the government, but the trade unions and the other traditional mass organisations ie the Women’s Federation and the Youth Federation. This is also a compromise to the reality that a large number of un-registered grassroots civil society organisations has emerged and gained popularity as a result of their incapacity. The traditional mass organisations are assigned a new regulatory, or ‘incubation’ role as the government prefers to call it, over the NGOs to steer, coach and financially sustain the approved civil society organisations. The Guangdong Provincial Federation of Trade Unions (GDFTU) has formed the Federation of Social Service Organisations for Workers in Guangdong (FSSOWG) on 16 May to incorporate as many as possible the affiliated, registered and independent labour organisations under its banner. The Federation of Youth and the Communist Youth League (CYL) of Guangzhou city and Shenzhen Municipality have recently launched subsidiary youth organisations and incubation centres to consolidate the social work organisations and the youth organisations under these platforms; whereas the Federation of Women of Shenzhen Municipality has formed the Support Base of Women’s Organisation to recruit member organisations and twenty women’s organisations have already participated.

The Political Bottom Line
The Social Administration Reform of Guangdong government is hailed as an advocate of ‘big market and small government’, still a debatable issue amongst the progressives within China, especially when it becomes equivalent to the reform faction within the party. Incubation and financial support via service procurement, implying the institutionalisation of NGO appraisal, assessment and monitoring should not be used as a disguised form of control and intervention on the social organisations, or simply as another means to promote NGOs’ dependence on the government. In the opinion of Cai He, Dean of the School of Sociology and Anthropology of Sun Yat-Sen University of Guangzhou city who is also the Chair of the Consultative Committee of the provincial Social Affairs Committee, the independence and sustainability of NGOs relies on clear legal protection as well as diversified funding sources. The latter, including government sponsorship as well as other sources of funding, is critical to avoid compromising the independence of the NGOs to serve government purposes[NOTE5].

While uplift the administrative control over the civil society organisations has been regarded as a bold step to take, concerns have been expressed. On the one hand a wider space is opened for the civil society to consolidate the non-institutional forces which have been developed as the market reform deepens. These forces are now allowed to acquire an organisational form, a mandate and an official role that is recognised by the government. This is a compromise preferable than losing control over a growing number of underground civil forces. On the other hand, consistent with the needs of constructing the Socialist Market Economy’, there is a political bottom line guarded by the traditional mass organisations to ensure that the opening of the civil society does not deviate from the party’s interests. These traditional mass organisations have been passive while their membership base, popularity and representation were severely challenged by the continuous economic reform and re-composition of the working class. Rather than being replaced, the mass organisations in Guangdong province are pressured to take the emerged civil society organisations as collaborators, rather than competitors. The incorporative purposes are also obvious. The offering of legal legitimacy puts the previously underground forces under the radar aimed at re-channelling them for pacification purposes. Incorporating the organisations under the regional control of the traditional mass organisations, which are the only authorised ‘nodal’ organisations to form federations, is also a precaution taken before these civil society organisations build themselves into inter-regional alliances.  


[NOTE1]Premier Wen Jiabao’s speech in the 13th Plenary of the People’s Political Consultative Conference, 29 March 2012.
[NOTE2]广东向NGO购买服务细则即将出台, 4 May 2012, http://gongyi.sina.com.cn
[NOTE3]广东不再新设事业单位将出向NGO购买服务细则, 第一财经日报(上海), 4 May 2012
NOTE4]广东已有11%社会组织承接政府转移职能,  26 April 2012, Xinhua News 
[NOTE5]蔡禾:政府是购买社会服务 不是购买社会组织, 21世纪经济报道 21st Century Business Herad, 12 March 2012


May 2012


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