China resorts to happiness to evaluate gov't officials' work

08:18, March 02, 2011      

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"I was really frustrated when I was told my promotion was suspended," said Ma Dechen, the party leader in a mountainous township in central China's Henan Province.

"But after a thorough check of the happiness index, I realized that I hadn't paid enough attention to the people's living standards and their happiness during my tenure in office," Ma, in his 50s, said.

Ma is one of five officials in Henan's Pingdingshan City whose promotions had been suspended after the local government put in place a new mechanism that uses a "Happiness Index", along with other economic indicators, to evaluate the work of officials three years ago.

Previously, gross domestic product (GDP) was widely adopted in Pingdingshan, as well as in other places around the nation, as the main gauge to assess the work of officials, regardless of the environmental cost or people's living standards, let alone whether they felt really happy.

Though happiness is difficult to quantify, the Pingdingshan city government has managed to work out an index that reflects on people's happiness through 16 indicators.

The "Happiness Index", compiled by the Pingdingshan City Statistics Bureau (PCSB), comprises traditional indicators such as disposable residential income and the ratio of expenditure on science, education, culture, health and sports.

"For residents in Pingdingshan, where economic development still lags behind many other cities, disposable income remains an important factor that has strong bearings on their feelings of happiness," said PCSB director Niu Jiqing.

"That's why disposable income has the most weight of 8 percent in the index," Niu explained.

The index also includes indicators that are more closely related to people's living standards but rarely adopted as criteria, such as average living space per capita, number of doctors per thousand residents and forest coverage.

The index is also tailored to reflect the pursuit of the Pingdingshan city government in energy efficiency, as indicators like energy consumption and sulfur dioxide emissions per unit of GDP are included, said Niu.

"To bring happiness into the evaluation system is in line with the social development and is a symbol that China is seeking to explore scientific and sustainable methods of management, especially in its vast rural areas," said Li Junwei, a professor with the Party School of the Central Committee of the CPC, the highest institution to train government officials.

Li, however, noted that the inclusion of the "Happiness Index" does not mean the replacement or disposal of traditional economic indicators, which play a fundamental role in people's happiness.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said in a recent on-line chat with the public that the central government would adopt new performance evaluation criteria for local governments and give more weight to efficiency, environmental protection and people's living standards.

"We should change the criteria for evaluating officials' work. The supreme criterion for assessing their performance is whether the people feel happy and satisfied, rather than skyscrapers," the premier told Internet users Sunday.

Source:Xinhua
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