Wen Jiabao

Wen tells leaders to handle petitions personally

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 March, 2009, 12:00am


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Key leaders should personally handle complaints by petitioners, Premier Wen Jiabao said yesterday, while vowing to retain the controversial petitioning system.

Rattled by a series of sensitive anniversaries coming up this year and escalating social tension fuelled by corruption and the economic downturn, the central government has repeatedly warned officials to brace for a year of unrest.

Mr Wen said the government would continue to rely on the petitioning system to defuse social tension.

'We should improve the mechanism to resolve social conflicts, and guide the public to express their requests and interests through legal channels,' Mr Wen said in his annual work report.

'We would insist on the system of having leading cadres, particularly major leading cadres, handle complaints and petitions by the public.'

Ministries, government departments and local governments all have petition offices to handle complaints, but the system has gradually become a bizarre cat-and-mouse chase between the police and petitioners - people who file complaints to the government about government misconduct and injustice.

The government has a two-pronged approach in handling social discontent and dissenting voices. On one hand, the petitioning system serves as a vent to release some of the anger from the public. On the other, police and security apparatus have already stepped up preparations for heavy handed crackdowns and surveillance against potential unrest.

Yu Jianrong, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has been a long-time opponent of the petitioning system. He has called for its abolition on the grounds that the mainland should focus on building a sound and just legal system.

Dr Yu said yesterday that relying on senior officials to handle complaints would not work.

'We should rely on a system, not individuals to resolve problems,' he said. 'Relying on senior officials to receive petitioners would not help. Is Wen Jiabao coming out to receive petitioners? ... that will not work as the entire country will go to see him.'

People trying to file petitions to government offices in Beijing are often abducted and sent home by officials from their provinces who lurk outside State Petition Offices to stop them handing complaints to the central government.

Brutality and human rights abuses are rampant, and many petitioners - especially the veteran ones - are close to nervous breakdown and rarely had their cases redressed, according to petitioners.

In rare cases, they have had their cases redressed, they say - the government did try resolving some cases ahead of the party congress in 2007.