China’s newspapers today slightly ruefully report the departure of an institution as old as the PRC itself: the Ministry of Railways. The behemoth ministry has overseen the rapid development of the railway network in China in the last decade but was dogged by claims of massive corruption (especially in connection with its disgraced former minister Liu Zhijun, he of “18 mistresses” infamy), and its fate appeared to have been sealed by the disastrous Wenzhou train crash in July 2011.
The main front page story on China’s newspapers today is the imminent dismantling of the Ministry of Railways, a stalwart ministry dating back all the way to 1949 (and further back into the Qing and Republican periods with its predecessor, the Ministry of Posts and Communications). News of its demise has today caused the newspapers to bid an emotional farewell to something akin to an old friend who’s finally passed on in old age. Various front pages today display images of people posing for pictures in front of the Ministry of Railways building in Beijing to capture a last memento before the sign on the gate is taken down.
A plan to restructure a number of government departments was tabled yesterday at a session of the National People’s Congress in Beijing (for a more detailed outline of the plan see reports in Global Times or New York Times). The new plan includes for the Ministry of Railways to be broken up and the responsibilities of its railway operations to be transferred to a newly created state-owned company, while its regulatory functions will be taken over by the Ministry of Transport.
Speaking after the new plan was announced, the current and (sure to be) last Minister of Railways, Sheng Guangzu (盛光祖) was quick to point out that no staff layoffs are on the cards, and he welcomed local and foreign investors to invest in the new state-owned railway company that will party replace the ministry. When asked whether the new company will be listed and whether existing staff will be allocated any of the shares, Sheng replied that all these things are still to be worked out, before adding, “its better to remain more strict with state-owned companies” (“国有企业还是严一点好”).