The central government says public opinion will play a role in assessing the performance of the mainland's 6 million civil servants - a move described by one political scientist as a challenging breakthrough. The Communist Party's Organisation Department and the Ministry of Personnel have jointly enacted new regulations based on the nation's first Civil Servant Law, which took effect last year, Xinhua reported yesterday. Liu Xutao , one of the consultants who helped draft the Civil Servant Law, said public opinion would be gauged from responses given by members of party and people's congresses and members of people's political consultative conferences. The regulations, which came into effect this month, state that opinion polls can be used on a trial basis to evaluate the performance of high-ranking civil servants. They also state that civil servants will be ranked according to four grades: excellent, competent, satisfactory and incompetent. Those rated 'incompetent' for two years in a row would be removed from their posts and demoted, according to the regulations, posted on the ministry's website. They say those rated 'excellent' for three consecutive years should be given priority for promotion and their outstanding results publicised. Professor Liu said: 'The [congress] delegates and committee members will be able to represent public opinion to some extent.' He said it would be impossible for central and local governments to cast the net wider and gather assessments through a public poll. 'First of all, the cost is huge, and China has no foundation of universal suffrage,' he said. He said the appraisal process would take place at the end of each year. Professor Liu, a political scientist at the National School of Administration in Beijing, predicted some technical problems could be encountered in implementing the regulations. 'I am afraid that some leaders will try to avoid offending their subordinates to gain a good assessment,' he said. 'And it's hard to get fair comments from some specific departments in our system, such as some internal organs which seldom deal with the public, or some law-enforcement posts which involve keeping a watch on people.' More than 16,000 civil servants were dismissed between 1996 and 2003, Xinhua said. There were more than 6 million civil servants working in government and public-funded organisations across the country at the end of 2005.