This Week in Asia

Snail Awards bring slow progress in China's fight against bureaucracy

That is exactly what a county in China's eastern Zhejiang province did this month when it handed out a "Snail Award" to two government units, in an unvarnished critique of their performance. Needless to say, it was a hit with the public.

Local media said the water conservancy bureau of Jinyun county in Lishui City, and the Shuning Hospital relocation project had been "honoured" for their slow progress and inefficiency.

Viral videos showed embarrassed representatives of the two units receiving their awards on stage in a ceremony described as "completely lacking in applause".

Many of the videos were dubbed over with canned laughter and quirky music. They showed the representatives holding a framed drawing of a dazed, bewildered-looking mollusc. A few videos even superimposed a cartoon snail crawling its way laboriously across the screen.

Chinese internet users had a field day, with many eagerly suggesting the award should be introduced in their hometowns too. One urged the recipients to display the award with pride, while another commented: "If you think Zhejiang's [government units] are bad, come to Shandong."

Representatives of the government units receive their Snail Awards in a ceremony "lacking in applause". Photo: Internet

Another, from Chongqing, mused that her county was still building a hospital five years after work began, while a user from Liaoning thought "almost every department" in his area would be eligible.

Yet another suggested a "ball-kicking" award be created and given to government units notorious for passing the buck. A few users took a more serious tone, saying it would be better to fire or punish incompetent government staff.

Even the country's top law enforcement body - the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China - got in on the act, welcoming the award on its official Weibo microblog. Describing the award as "refreshing" for not overlooking inadequacies and shortcomings, the commission said that the party and government must continue to "innovate" to improve the lives of the public.

Snail Award "winners" were selected not only on the quality and efficiency of their work - or the lack thereof - but also on what effect their tardiness had on the public.

Judges based their decisions partly on the feedback of the public, in a nod to a wider nationwide drive in which the Chinese public has been encouraged to take a greater role in supervising their local authorities and government services.

For years, members of the public have been accustomed to having to make several trips to government units even to accomplish the simplest task, whether it be applying for a business licence or to obtain proof of residence. The slogan of the new drive is that, for any task, "only one trip is needed". A commentary by the state news agency Xinhua said the award was a warning to all tardy government administrators to pull up their socks.

Coverage of the Snail Awards on WeChat.

"After 'winning' the award, units and individuals who should amend their ways must do so, while those who should be punished ought to face penalties. The Snail Awards can also play a role in weeding out those who are lazy and incompetent," the commentary said.

Professor Zhu Lijia, from China's National School of Administration, agreed, saying too many government personnel dealing with the public still suffered "from inaction and tardiness".

"This is by no means a trivial matter. To a certain extent, it will affect the government's prestige and will even lead to the loss of popular support and shake the foundation of governance," Zhu said.

In Jinyun, the sting of the award has already been felt. The health bureau has pledged that the Shuning Hospital relocation will be its priority for the rest of this year. Fellow "winner", the Jinyun water conservancy bureau, has vowed to "reflect" on its inadequacies and "improve" on its shortcomings.

The award winners would be "strictly supervised in implementing work-style rectifications and in promoting efficiency", said the Jinyun Commission for Discipline Inspection's deputy director of publicity and education Yin Bibo.

She said the county would continue to issue the award as it had already forced a change in attitude at some departments which feared they might be in the running.

For those Chinese who hope to one day make those trips to government departments in just the one visit, the slow but steady advance of the Snail Awards offers some hope.

Jinyun county's award, set up in 2018, followed the introduction of similar awards in Jiangsu province's Taizhou city in 2016 and Zhejiang's Shengzhou and Guangdong's Zhanjiang in May and September last year.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Altro da This Week in Asia

This Week in Asia4 min lettiMedical
Tokyo Olympics: Nine Japanese Governors Want Option To Scrap Games Amid Coronavirus Surge
The governors of nine Japanese prefectures believe the Tokyo Olympic Games should be postponed again or cancelled outright if the present surge in coronavirus cases cannot be brought under control. The Mainichi newspaper interviewed the governors of
This Week in Asia4 min lettiCrime & Violence
Wife Of Japan's Sex-crazed 'Don Juan' Dogged By Poisoning Evidence In Murder Case
A young Japanese woman being questioned on suspicion of killing her wealthy and elderly husband three years ago is declining to cooperate with investigators, although the evidence against her appears to be mounting. The entire case surrounding Saki S
This Week in Asia4 min lettiInternational Relations
Philippine Diplomat Says Sorry For Twitter Rant Against China, Is Told 'Only Duterte Can Use Curse Words'
The Philippines' top diplomat has apologised for a foul-mouthed rant on Twitter in which he told China where to go - after being informed that only the president can use curse words. Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jnr issued a public apology on Tue