Why can’t the village be built into a first-level government?

1. Serving the Lower Village

Recently, 16 central departments including the Ministry of Civil Affairs jointly issued the “Opinions on Improving and Perfecting Village-level Comprehensive Service Functions” (Min Fa [2022] No. 56) (hereinafter referred to as “Opinions”), with the purpose of “strengthening the benefits of inclusive services in rural areas” We will build comprehensive, basic, and comprehensive service capabilities, comprehensively promote rural revitalization, and promote common prosperity for farmers and rural areas.”

The “Opinions” is divided into four parts, including “General Requirements for Comprehensive Services at the Village Level”, “Ensuring the Supply of Comprehensive Services to Villages”, “Running Village-level Public Affairs and Public Welfare Well” and “Strengthening Organizational Guarantee”.

The core content is “Ensuring the supply of comprehensive services to the village” in the second part, and “running village-level public affairs and public welfare undertakings well” in the third part – the former talks about the problem of serving the village, that is, how to Various public services are sunk into the villages and placed on the doorsteps of farmers to better serve farmers; the latter refers to the optimization of the village’s own work. Roughly speaking, the former is mainly a requirement for the government, while the latter is mainly a requirement for the village level.

It certainly sounds like a wonderful thing to sink the service to the village and put it on the doorstep of the farmer. But don’t forget that all good things have a hidden price, no love for no reason. Therefore, when discussing serving the lower village, it is inevitable to discuss basic issues such as its necessity, cost, and who should provide the service.

2. “There is no love for no reason”

From the point of view of necessity, some of the ten services listed in the “Opinions” are not actually necessary to go to the village.

For example, employment services are mainly a matter of the market. Even if employment training is to be carried out, it can be done in townships or even counties, and there is no need to set up a point in the village. In the end, it only increases the formalism of the work of village cadres.

Another example is the construction of digital farm bookstores, elderly education, parent schools or family education in cultural, sports and educational services. How many of them have really played a role? If it is just a decoration to welcome the inspection, and the common people do not need or use it, it is a waste of money, it is better not to do it.

From the perspective of cost, the “Opinions” did not explain clearly who will pay for the government to do so many good deeds.

The first service mentioned in the “Opinions” is “health services”. Is it necessary to sink? Of course it is necessary, the key is to sink what content. This involves the reconstruction of the entire county medical and health system and the reconfiguration of resources. The functional orientation of the village clinic should be health-centered public health, and the health management of the villagers, especially the elderly, children, and patients with chronic diseases. . These jobs are unprofitable and require financial support from the government. And most of the county and township governments do not have the money to do these good things. If they really want to do it, they must provide more money from the provinces and the central government.

If the problem of cost sharing is not solved, the service to the lower village will only be reduced to a dead letter.

From the perspective of the main body of service providers, in addition to professional services such as medical and health services, police and legal services, emergency and social psychological services that require additional professionals from the government, other services are likely to sink into village cadres. extra work.

As we all know, there are very few village cadres in most rural areas, and many of them are part-timers. Once a large amount of service work is sunk into the village, and the department’s manpower and funds are not sunk, the village cadres will have to do it themselves and be busy with these administrative tasks in the name of service.

On the one hand, many subsidized services do not meet the real needs of rural areas and farmers. On the other hand, various services need to be left with marks for assessment and inspection. Village cadres often lack skills, so a lot of service work is ultimately reduced to formalism. . As a result, the service did not really sink, but the village cadres were suspended, and the relationship with the rural farmers became more and more alienated.

3. “Village-level government?”

Although the third part of the “Opinions”, “Doing a good job in village-level public affairs and public welfare undertakings” has only three contents, but a discerning person can see at a glance that there are few articles but many matters, just like the stance of a first-level government. Apart from not having the diplomatic and national defense functions of the central government, this village-level organization seems to be not much different from other local governments.

It’s not that the government is bad, but it is really bad for most rural areas to be a first-level government. The simplest reason is that, with the urbanization of the population – this process is far from over, most of the rural population will continue to move to the cities, and there are not many people left in the village, so there is absolutely no need to organize village-level organizations. Become a first-level government.

As we all know, if the first-level government has no money, there is not much practical work to do, and the superiors have to conduct high-standard service assessments. The result is formalism and bureaucracy. To conduct a high standard of service evaluation, the result is an advanced version of formalism and bureaucracy – corruption. To waste financial resources on formalism and bureaucracy is, of course, corruption.

It should be pointed out that the above criticism is not to deny that the policy is responsive to the needs of the village society. On the contrary, I believe that all policies for agriculture, rural areas and farmers should better respond to the real needs of the village society, which is different from the “improvement of village-level service functions” emphasized in the “Opinions”. In other words, improving village-level service functions may not necessarily respond to the real needs of village society.

Of course, at every historical stage, not all village social needs may be effectively responded to. The policy should respond mainly to the most important social needs of each historical stage.

4. “The Real Needs of Farmers”

So, what are the most important needs of farmers at the moment?

According to the survey, the most important needs of most villages are good agricultural infrastructure, basic education and basic old-age care.

Good agricultural infrastructure mainly includes large and flat arable land, perfect farmland water conservancy facilities, low-cost agricultural materials and agricultural machinery supply system, etc. At present, these infrastructures are very lacking in the vast rural areas, which is also the main reason for farmers to abandon crops.

Good basic education is also one of the most important needs of farmers. At present, due to the impact of educational urbanization, a large number of high-quality educational resources have been concentrated in the county seat. As a result, farmers have to take out a loan to buy a house in the county seat for their children, and even sacrifice a labor force to accompany them to study in the county seat. Basic education that could have been completed in the countryside at a relatively low cost now has to go to the city to study at a huge cost, which is a huge burden for most ordinary farmers.

Pension is another big problem facing rural areas. On the one hand, as a large number of young people migrate to cities, it is mainly the elderly who remain in the villages, and the previous family pension system is rapidly declining; It seems unrealistic for the government to take over the old-age security in rural areas. Under such circumstances, how to effectively solve the problem of old-age care in rural areas requires a positive response from our public policies.

Regarding the needs of the above-mentioned three aspects, the “Opinions” mentions “building day care, mutual assistance facilities for the elderly and barrier-free facilities”, but hardly mentions good agricultural infrastructure and localized basic education. Of course, it does not mean that village-level organizations should undertake the construction tasks of agricultural infrastructure and basic education. These are mainly government tasks. What needs to be discussed is what role village-level organizations need to play in the process of carrying out these tasks.

If our public policy does not respond to the main needs of society, but is busy responding to some less important or even unnecessary needs, then such public policy will only result in a waste of financial resources.

V. “Re-understanding of Village-level Organizations”

It is very important to re-understand the functions of village-level organizations.

What needs to be clear is that the village should not be built as a first-level government, but to truly restore the core positioning of the village-level organization of “village autonomy under the leadership of party building”. In this sense, the fundamental function of the village level is to organize scattered farmers and effectively connect top-down national resources with bottom-up farmers’ needs.

This functional positioning determines that the core work of village-level organizations is mass work rather than administrative work. Village cadres need to spend more time understanding the real needs of the masses, rather than sitting in the office “doing homework” or running to the government every day meeting. This means that village-level organizations should have strong mass and flexibility, and can better organize farmers to jointly carry out the governance of public affairs. Good public policy should respond to and strengthen these functions of village organizations, not the other way around.

So, what is the modernization of rural governance? I think the main thing is to deal with two pairs of “positivity and negativity”.

First of all, village-level organizations must balance their positivity and negativity, be active in mass work, do their best to understand and reflect the real needs of farmers, do their best to organize farmers, and do their best to convert government resources into village governance capabilities; in administrative affairs To be negative, the negative here means that the government should not impose too many administrative tasks on the village level, do not try to administrativeize the village-level organization, and do not use administrative affairs to replace the mass work of the village-level organization.

Secondly, the government must balance the positivity and negativity, and actively act on the main needs of farmers, such as creating conditions to improve agricultural infrastructure, returning basic education to the countryside, and providing support for farmers to provide mutual assistance for the elderly, etc.; in specific governance matters It is necessary to maintain a certain degree of negativity, and leave some good things for village-level organizations to do, instead of doing all the good things, such as the government providing necessary financial support, allowing farmers to organize themselves to carry out small-scale infrastructure construction, not everything are replaced by the government.

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