Petitioner regulation defended by Beijing
Rule requiring complaints to be handled at local level 'needed to fight injustice'
The central government has rejected criticism that a controversial new rule is aimed at preventing people who have complaints from flooding into the capital.
They say it is a significant step forward in dealing with corruption and social injustice.
The revised regulation, announced in January and to take effect on Sunday, would give petitioners more rights and hold local authorities more accountable compared with its decade-old predecessor, a top official from the State Bureau for Letters and Calls said.
Wei Jinmu , the petition bureau's deputy director, admitted the main reason more petitioners were flocking to Beijing was the lack of effective channels for grievances to be addressed at the local level.
Mr Wei said that when people didn't get a timely response to their complaints at a local level, they travelled to other places to lodge petitions and sometimes bypassed their local governments altogether.
He said it was important to ensure that complaints were first dealt with at a local level. The growing clamour for attention is viewed by some officials as a potential spark for wider social instability.
Authorities in the capital regularly round up petitioners and send them back to their home towns.
Mr Wei said local authorities which routinely ignored people's complaints were placing an unnecessary burden on the central government.
He said the new regulation would require local authorities to settle disputes within 60 days of receiving the complaint.
'Petitioners will be given access to information relating to their complaints and are entitled to obtain a written response from the authorities.
'If local officials fail to handle the complaint properly they should be held responsible,' Mr Wei said, without giving details of the consequences for those who fail to do so.
But some petitioners have questioned the effectiveness of the new regulation, which bans local authorities from taking revenge on people making complaints.
'It is nothing new because the existing rules also forbid such revenge and call for protection of petitioners' rights,' said Li Guirong , a 49-year-old Jilin woman who has petitioned for the past eight years over an official corruption case.
'But local authorities have simply turned a deaf ear to our grievances, with many following and rounding up petitioners like me in Beijing and forcing us to return to our home provinces.'
Ms Li also criticised the new provision limiting the number of representatives on any case to five. She said this robbed people of their right to directly petition the central government.
Meanwhile, Xinhua said more than 80 per cent of petitions brought to Beijing could have been resolved at a local level, citing about 500,000 cases received by the bureau in 2003.