Beijing advises local officials to lend an ear to petitioners

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 May, 2009, 12:00am

Concerned about social unrest, the central government issued three directives to provincial and municipal governments last month, asking them to heed petitioners' complaints rather than simply turning them away.

One rights expert said the directives were a significant move that could help defuse social tensions and ensure small incidents did not flare into major unrest. Under the guidelines, reported by Xinhua on Tuesday, local officials should receive petitioners on a regular basis and come up with a system to address their problems.

They even ask officials to go out and actively talk to petitioners.

Several provinces have responded with new policies of their own.

In Jiangxi , the government is requiring officials to assign one day a month to meeting petitioners. They should also select a few 'important complaints' and devote extra resources to addressing them.

Shanghai has implemented a similar plan. Pudong district officials have been told they must each investigate eight complaints from petitioners before November.

In the central province of Hubei , county- and city-level party chiefs launched a campaign in March to meet petitioners. The party officials were required to follow up on the public's complaints 'until the problems are clear and solved ... providing visitors a satisfactory answer', Xinhua said.

An unidentified Shanghai official told Xinhua that the pressure for handling complaints had become 'higher than ever' since the start of the global financial crisis, a time when disagreements could easily arise between business owners and workers over wages and contracts.

Professor Liu Yunxian from the China Executive Leadership Academy in Pudong said the key point of the central government's directive was to change petitioning from a down-up effort into a top-down system

'It makes reaching the public a necessary task and outlines the guidelines. It helps to guarantee the public with a system,' Professor Liu said, adding the new system was practical and would benefit the community in the long term.