The Communist Party, facing increased public discontent because of widespread corruption and social injustice, plans to make more channels available to citizens to air their grievances and seek redress against corrupt local officials. The existing xinfang petitioning system would be overhauled following a party leadership meeting beginning on Sunday in an effort to make it work more effectively, Xinhua reported yesterday. 'The reform is necessitated by the initiative to build a harmonious society and can help eradicate elements that might cause social unrest,' the agency said. The Sixth Plenum of the 16th Communist Party Central Committee will focus on the theme of constructing 'a harmonious society', taken to mean greater social and economic equality. 'The current petitioning system can be maddeningly ineffective,' said Qing Lianbin, a professor at the Central Party School. 'Local governments try to hide problems and maintain a nice, peaceful facade, so they set quotas to restrict the number of petitions every year.' The xinfang system is supposed to give disgruntled citizens an opportunity to seek redress for official decisions from the highest levels of government. But the success rate of petitioners is tiny. The government's Petition Office received more than 10 million petitions last year but just two out of every thousand cases were resolved, a survey found. Professor Qing said top leaders had no choice but to reform the obsolete mechanism because they feared pent-up social anger could find more dangerous outlets. Proposals for more public hearings and more direct elections at the local level would be considered at the annual meeting, Xinhua said.