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GDP Phasing out in Government Evaluation 2019-01-02
Gross domestic product growth has been the main way of evaluating a government’s work for years. But the Zhejiang Province government will no longer use the criterion when assessing governments in 26 less-developed counties across the province.

The decision was made three days before the opening of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, currently going on in Beijing. It is the first time the Zhejiang government has removed that assessment standard on such a large scale.

From now on, these 26 counties with comparatively low GDPs will switch focus to environmental protection and raising the incomes of residents.

Hangzhou’s Chun’an County is among the 26 counties.

To protect the Qiandao Lake scenic area, Chun’an County has sacrificed economic growth and has lagged far behind other counties in the city.

Kaihua County faces a similar situation. Kaihua is a subordinate county of Quzhou in western Zhejiang and is where the Qiantang River begins.

Protecting the river has been the county government’s priority through the years, leaving the county lagging behind others.

Two years ago, Hangzhou listed Chun’an as an experimental county to see what would happen if it removed the GDP assessment criterion. Local authorities responded by furthering efforts to protect the environment.

“Unlike other counties that develop industry without considering the environment, Chun’an has never had any heavy or polluting industries, which in return puts pressure on the county’s GDP growth,” said Xu Lingxia, a Chun’an native working in a local government department. “Now that the GDP growth assessment standard has been canceled, we can focus on protecting the environment, which may boost the development of the tourism industry.

“To residents, income growth is more important than GDP. I hope the government will shift their work focus to increasing residents’ income,” Xu added.

The government has said it will continue supporting the 26 counties as in previous years. From 2011 to 2013, the Zhejiang government provided 104 billion (US$16.6 billion) yuan in financial assistance to the 26 counties.

Since the open-up and reform policy was launched in the late 1970s, many cities have developed according to the mode of “first pollute, second harness,” which put economic development before the environment.

Although GDP soared for three decades, environmental pollution worsened and it has become an area of widespread public concern, especially recently after former CCTV journalist Chai Jing’s documentary on pollution stirred debate around the country.

The government of Zhejiang Province has decided to tackle its air pollution by connecting it to job promotions for officials.

In line with a newly published guideline on air pollution, officials of all prefecture-level cities in Zhejiang will have to attain good scores in two separate systems that evaluate local air quality to secure promotions.

According to the document, one system will be based on the average annual PM2.5 readings in these cities, and the other will take into consideration energy consumption, control of car emissions and industrial restructuring.

PM2.5 particles are less than 2.5 micrograms in diameter and caused smog that is harmful to human health.

Both systems are marked out of 100. There will be four marking levels: excellent, good, borderline and fail.

The Zhejiang government said the evaluation will be an important criteria and will be open to public supervision. The provincial authorities will allocate environmental funds to cities that do well and mete out penalties to those that perform poorly.

In recent years, heavy smog has caused growing health concerns. China has taken a variety of measures to contain air pollution, including restrictions on industrial production and vehicle use.

More and more governments have realized that GDP growth doesn’t reflect the cost of energy resources and environmental pollution, nor does it reveal the quality of life of citizens.

Huzhou in northern Zhejiang became the country’s first city to cancel the GDP assessment criterion in 2003, causing a stir around the country at the time.

Yang Renzheng, the then Huzhou Party secretary, at the time said the assessment ended up indirectly encouraging officials to make unwise investments.

“Since the GDP growth was a big standard in evaluating officials’ work, they made irrational investments and picked vanity projects to bolster their chances at promotion,” he was quoted as saying in reports. “Some officials ignored local conditions to come up with unreasonable governmental tasks that wasted manpower and capital.”

However, removing the criterion didn’t harm Huzhou’s economic development. On the contrary, it became the city’s first prefecture-level city to be dubbed “ecological civilization demonstration area.”

Thereafter, local governments in the province began to lessen the proportion of GDP growth in evaluations.

Only 2 percent of the evaluation is based on GDP in Hangzhou, In 2010, the city government stopped ranking subordinate districts and counties according to GDP growth.

Nonetheless, calling off or decreasing the proportion of GDP growth in assessing government work doesn’t mean economic development isn’t important.

“Our country is in the midst of transforming the economy,” Xu Jianfeng, director of the Zhejiang Academy of Social Sciences, told Qianjiang Evening News. “Thus the assessment standard should be adjusted naturally according to social economic development. Governments should seek economic quality and efficiency rather than just pure growth.”
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