Planet China

Coughing up

China’s central government is trying to come up with a better system to measure performance among its millions of employees. But it has never been particularly easy to make sure that local bureaucrats meet expectations. Occasionally it’s understandable why they haven’t, too. Take Gong’an county in Hubei province, where senior officials started a new rule in 2009 urging civil servants to smoke more to boost local tax income. Up to 230,000 packs of a Hubei-made brand needed to be smoked every year, cadres were told. Those who didn’t smoke enough or were found puffing brands made elsewhere would be fined. Investigators would even start counting discarded cigarette butts in government buildings. The target was only rescinded after a media report about the scheme fuelled national riducule.

But changing bureaucratic cultures is not easy. Witness Gong’an county again. It is still obsessed by smoking, for instance, and Xinhua has discovered that the local government is still targeting 62.7 million packs of local cigarette sales this year. Tobacco sales are also part of the matrix used to evaluate the performance of the county’s officials. But in order to reach the threshold each resident would need to consume an average of 60 packs. Xinhua has described the target as “outrageous”.

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