Future government-run public hearings must involve voluntary applicants, the State Development Planning Commission has ordered. The decree, in a 19-point paper, follows criticism that only hand-picked representatives were allowed to attend a recent forum on rail fare increases. The mainland's top price-regulating organisation said in the paper that grassroots representatives would be permitted to voice their opinions at public hearings on state-run industries, the Beijing Youth Daily said yesterday. But representatives still had to have a professional background or 'reasonable cultural quality', the document said. The paper, however, maintained that the semi-official China Consumers' Association could choose representatives for such forums, which the Government had anticipated would defuse public anger over unpopular price rises. The decree was published after a hearing last weekend, the first such event organised by the central Government, triggered an outcry among the public and media. The hearing concerning the rise in train fares was broadcast nationwide on China Central Television. The Beijing Evening News criticised the choice of delegates to the hearing, saying in a front-page report that most of the representatives travelled to Beijing by plane and were therefore ignorant of the difficulties faced by people at a local level. Five thousand rail commuters applied to make a statement at the hearing but were ignored, the Beijing Evening News report said. The commission also said in its paper that future hearings would not be broadcast live since it was 'too expensive'. In fact, it is more likely that it fears losing control of public opinion. In 1998 China introduced a price law as part of Premier Zhu Rongji's political reform efforts to increase transparency in decision-making. The law stipulated that as of August last year all monopolised industries must first conduct a hearing before they raising prices. It is expected that the telecommunications industry will conduct a similar hearing later this year. At the hearing last weekend rail officials were defending potential price rises of as much as 30 per cent during peak periods such as the Lunar New Year break next month. The Railway Ministry predicts 130 million mainlanders will take the train from January 28 to March 8. Officials said price rises were necessary because the national rail network was in debt and the holiday would involve overtime pay and extra trains. With China's entry to the World Trade Organisation, Beijing is expected to institute other reforms to increase transparency in Government decision-making.