China plans to scrap an official ranking system that grades provincial and city officials according to petitioner numbers, a Chinese newspaper reported on Monday.
The mechanism, which has been in place since 2005, allocates negative points to officials according to the number of petitioners from their jurisdictions that visit Beijing and affects official's chances of promotion.
It has long been seen as a contributing factor behind heavy-handed crackdowns on petitioners in recent years, including illegal kidnappings, deportations and placing people in black jails.
The aim of the overhaul is to encourage petitioners’ complaints to be settled locally and to ease the pressure the system places on local officials, according to The Beijing News, which citing anonymous sources from central government agencies and a deputy director of a provincial petition bureau broke the news on Monday.
Many Chinese citizens unhappy with the way local officials have dealt with their disputes have for years resorted to visiting the nation’s capital to seek justice. Most of the petitions are about disputes arising from land grabs, house demolitions, environmental pollution and social security and legal issues.
The practice of petitioners visiting Beijing has placed increasing pressure on central government, which, concerned with maintaining social stability, ordered local officials to stop petitioners at all costs.
The ranking system not only resulted in crackdowns, but was also used by some petitioners as a means to threaten officials, according to The Beijing News report.
“The [official ranking] scheme initially was designed to encourage local officials to solve disputes [for local citizens] … but it has led to bribery, deception and crackdowns, prompting more petitions,” Yu Jianrong, a prominent scholar on rural issues, told The Beijing News.
The newspaper said the government had implemented pilot programmes in the coastal provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu and was mulling extending it across the nation.
When China launched its first online petition portal in early July, the website crashed on the first day, leading to comments that there were too many grievances in China for the system to handle.
Last year in a high-profile case, Tang Hui, the mother of a teenage girl who was raped and forced into prostitution, was sentenced to 18 months of re-education through labour after she petitioned dozens of times in Beijing and Hunan’s capital Changsha, seeking compensation and harsher punishments for the perpetrators.
The case sparked a public outcry and turned the media spotlight on the plight of petitioners.