Guangdong party chief Zhang Dejiang has ordered officials throughout the province to make resolving public petitions a top priority and to 'earnestly' deal with the problems raised by the masses.
Mr Zhang said people were showing trust in the party and government when they submitted petitions, and official neglect of the submissions meant public servants and party members 'devoted little feeling for the masses', according to the People's Daily.
Mr Zhang made the remarks late last month when he addressed a national team on petition work, but his speech was only reported by the People's Daily yesterday.
'The masses are expressing a kind of expectation when they raise questions and propose suggestions through petitions, so we should treat every petition letter and receive every petitioner with full sincerity and enthusiasm,' he said.
Mr Zhang said officials should solve legitimate and reasonable requests 'as soon as possible' through 'every possible means'. He said people had a democratic right to lodge petitions and officials should respond to unreasonable requests patiently, carefully explaining their actions.
Mr Zhang pledged to improve and strengthen petition work in lower-level administrations to solve problems 'at the initial stage'. The newspaper quoted him as saying: 'We will try to settle small problems within villages and towns and solve the big matters within the county and city.'
Dong Jianxin, a government administration expert from Guangzhou's Jinan University, said petitions were an effective way to relieve social conflict.
But he also said the petition system was an administrative rather than a judicial remedy to disputes and putting too much emphasis on petitions could undermine the legal system.