Opening Remarks at the Seminar on Systems and Reform of Social Public Services

22 Sep 2013

Seminar on Systems and Reform of Social Public Services, Beijing Friendship Hotel, Beijing, China - Ms. Renata Dessallien, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative

Honorable President Huang Wenping,
Honorable President Song Xiaowu,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning and welcome to this seminar on the reform of social public services systems. I would like to begin by expressing my warm gratitude to our partners, the China Research Society for Public Sector Reform (CSPSR), Chinese Public Administration Society, China Society of Administrative Reform, and China Welfare Lottery Issuing and Management Centre. UNDP is proud to have been invited to partner in this important event, and we thank all our dear colleagues who have made this seminar possible. Our thanks also go to the officials from key Ministries and academia, influential think tanks and research institutes, who are responsible for China’s social public service reforms in health, education and social organization sectors, and to all the local COPSR representatives present. And, of course, special thanks to our international participants who have travelled from far away to participate!

Since the 2012 seminar last year, important developments in public sector reform in China have occurred. The 18th Party Congress and the latest round of government reform have reinforced the need to separate government administration from the management of enterprises, state assets, public institutions and social organisations, and to further delegate decision-making. Parallel to this, the targets set in the roadmap for reform of public service units are being progressively achieved. Government control and monopoly management over social public services is gradually reducing and more social organizations are participating in service delivery. So a lot of important positive changes are underway.

Public administration reform in China is nothing new. As early as 1978, the central government began to transfer public service delivery responsibilities to local government. In 1990 public service delivery was made a key component of national development, reflecting the collaborative roles of government, market and civil society. In 2001, the 10th Five-Year Plan accelerated reform of public social services, as well as separation of PSUs from government and enterprises. In recent years, the 12th Five-year Plan and the public sector reform plan of the new government both stress further separation of government from social affairs, and encourage social actors to participate in the provision of social services. These reforms are all crucial for China to respond to increasing demand of its people for high-quality social services, at a time when society is becoming more and more educated and complex.

Social public service reform is an arduous task and faces many challenges. Our discussions today are therefore most important and timely. China is interested in learning from similar reform efforts of other countries. We are delighted today to welcome experts from Australia, Germany, Japan, the Netherland, Switzerland, United States and Vietnam, who will share their insights with us. This seminar today also benefits from a delegation from Singapore’s Civil Service College.

Helping developing countries to share knowledge, experiences and good practice is a central pillar of UNDP’s work. In the area of PAR alone, we work in 112 countries around the world, including China. Last year, UNDP and the Government of Singapore established a Global Centre for Public Service Excellence, in Singapore, to further support this kind of international research and exchange. We also have a Regional Centre for Public Administration Reform in Eastern Europe, based in Bratislava, that serves similar functions at regional level.

Just as we bring international experience to China, we feel that there are many countries that could benefit by knowing more about China’s PARs. From my own personal perspective, I find China’s approach most refreshing and most fascinating. First, China’s reforms are conceived as an organic process with great cognizance of the very different local contexts across the country, and with keen recognition of the complex psychology behind institutional change. Second, China’s PARs are a fascinating mix of top down and bottom up approaches, orchestrated simultaneously. General direction comes from the top, but the details of the reform waves only become clear after a lot of bottom up piloting and feedback. At any given period of time, thousands of pilot exercises are being tested in various different parts of the country on different aspects of reform. The country is like a vast laboratory of percolating experimentation, within a larger, steady, gradual reform process. It is a very dynamic but steady process. And it is both circular and a linear at the same time. Thirdly, China’s PAR is approached in a pragmatic, rather than an ideological or dogmatic way. The ‘isms’ or ideologies are less important than whether or not they actually work on the ground. As a result, China’s reforms are a great and practical meddly of many elements, moulded together. Fourthly, China’s reforms are resolutely pursued over a long term time frame. Yes, there are intermediate plans and targets, but they are conceived within a broad, long-term constantly evolving change management process, as opposed to discrete one-time events. There is a careful balancing between perpetual change and institutional stability. For all these reasons and more, China has much to offer the world with its unique and organic approach to PAR, and to reform in general.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

With the immense experience and expertise assembled in this room today, both from China and abroad, we look forward to very insightful and fruitful exchanges.

Once again, I would like to extend my warm gratitude to our Chinese partners and to all of you for joining us today to share your knowledge and experience.

Thank you and welcome!