Departments given deadlines to handle complaints filed by members of public Beijing has given local authorities deadlines to settle petition appeals filed by aggrieved citizens in an attempt to shed the image of petition offices as powerless 'mailboxes'. The measure is included in the revised petition law announced yesterday. It will take effect on May 1. Article 21 of the law stipulates that petition offices at county level or above should issue replies to petitioners within 15 days, informing them of the proper referral or reporting of their cases. Within another 15 days, the departments concerned will need to decide whether to accept petitions. That means it will take a month for petitioners to know whether their case has been taken up. The new time frame gives government departments 60 days from the receipt of the petitions to resolve the problems. It allows a further 30 days for the settlement of particularly complex cases. The new regulation also requires all levels of government to publish their petition offices' contact details and administrative procedures. Certain days must also be set aside to allow petitioners to file complaints directly to senior officials. The changes call for greater input from other sectors of society such as legal aid organisations, professional associations and community groups, and give petition offices the power to hold public hearings into serious issues. All submissions will be logged in a national database accessible by petition office and government staff around the country. The law gives their officials the power to make recommendations to responsible departments and file regular reports on the status of complaints. Government departments will have to report to the upper level of government any petitions that could have a significant impact on society and to take immediate measures to tackle such cases and stop the spread of any adverse social impact. Authorities will face punishment for poor handling of petitions that lead to escalations of social conflict. It is now illegal for complainants to gather around government departments or solicit signatures to add weight to their petition, while government staff will be punished if they do not perform their duties. The new regulation follows a debate last year on how to reform the petition system. Yu Jianrong , of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, conducted a nationwide survey and found only three of 2,000 petitioners had their problems solved through the system. He urged the State Council to abandon the petition office system and pass the job to people's congresses at all levels. But other analysts called for the offices to be given greater powers, a call apparently heeded by the authors of the revised regulation.