The National People's Congress, supposedly the mainland's highest legislative body, is irreverently described as a rubber-stamp parliament or toothless tiger by overseas media and critics. Going on experiences to date, they might have a point. The NPC's plenary session every March sees nearly 3,000 deputies congregate in Beijing, arguing and debating for 10 days. Then, at the closing ceremony, they invariably vote for whatever motions or laws have been proposed by the standing committee before heading home. However, changes could be on the way, as voices urging reforms and more teeth for the NPC's plenary session get stronger. A number of mainland academics have called for the leadership to reform the five-tier people's congress system, slash the number of NPC deputies and delegates to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, enlarge the NPC standing committee and increase the frequency of plenary sessions. The leadership is believed to be receptive, but it is unclear when it will muster the strength to overhaul the system. Leaders have already started to tinker with the system and have tried to give more power to NPC deputies - members of the standing committee in particular. Li Peng , a former premier and NPC chairman from 1998 to 2002, worked hard to enhance the standing committee's role by constantly summoning key central government officials to explain important policy changes and by sending more standing committee members to investigate issues. Since the 1990s, the NPC has also managed to shorten the duration of the annual plenary session from 20 days to 10. When Wu Bangguo became NPC chairman in 2003, he started moving younger technocrats and lawyers into the standing committee, once entirely composed of retired senior officials who knew little about law-making. So far, the changes have been mostly cosmetic. But some academics believe drastic changes are needed. Gu Haibing , a professor at the People's University in Beijing, said the number of NPC deputies and CPPCC delegates should be halved to save money and enhance their law-making and monitoring functions. Take the nearly 3,000 NPC deputies, for instance. It costs taxpayers at least 12 million yuan each year just to finance their 10-day meeting, including transportation, meals and accommodation. Professor Gu said there was no need for the inclusion of nearly 1,000 senior officials and more than 260 PLA generals. Their attendance means few decisions are made at local levels during their 10 days in Beijing. The remaining deputies could become full-time legislators, able to play the role meant for them in terms of framing legislation and monitoring government performance. Li Lin , a senior research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, recently told the mainland-backed Wen Wei Po newspaper that after a reduction in numbers, the frequency of NPC sessions could be increased, with a 20-day meeting every spring and autumn to give professional deputies ample time to deliberate. Other academics have suggested abolishing the CPPCC and people's congresses at the county and township levels.