CHINA - The nation's decades-old petitioning system will be reformed, the top authority handling it pledged on Thursday.
The reform measures promised by the State Bureau of Letters and Calls will encourage people to make more use of an Internet-based service to boost efficiency, and guide petitioners in resorting to the law.
On Thursday, the bureau released figures showing that on a single workday, 1,200 complaints are lodged online. In total, nearly 20,000 grievances are filed in various forms every day to such agencies at, and above, county level.
Two deputy chiefs from the bureau urged local officials to be "more proactive" in addressing complaints, to avoid people flocking to Beijing to lodge petitions.
Zhang Enxi, a deputy director at the bureau, said at a news conference that the most widely lodged grievances concern inappropriate land expropriations, housing demolition and complaints about labour and social protection.
Between January and October, bureaus in charge of public petitioning at, and above, county level received 6.04 million complaints, or about 20,000 a day. The number shrank by 2.1 per cent year-on-year, Zhang said.
Li Gao, also a deputy director of the bureau, said a substantial number of petitions are related to the law and litigation, but he did not specify the proportion.
It was also announced on Thursday that Xu Jie, another deputy director, has been placed under investigation for serious legal and disciplinary violations. The statement, from the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China, did not elaborate.
A reform blueprint released by the Party in mid-November stated that the petitioning system would be reformed and the online petitioning system would be set up.
It was decided that petitions relating to the law and litigation should be submitted to legislative and judicial departments and settled according to the law.
Li said that in cases where such complaints are lodged with the bureau, staff members will no longer handle them but guide petitioners to seek redress through the courts.
The bureau began receiving petitions submitted via the Internet on July 1 and by Monday had received 130,172. Li said the petitions are usually referred to the appropriate authorities within five workdays.
"The operation of the online platform has been smooth, and we will guide the public to use the Internet more often to lodge complaints," Li said.
Li also confirmed that the authorities will no longer assess local governments based on the number of "illegal and repeated" petitions filed in Beijing.
The country protects the public's right to petition in line with procedures, and the bureau forbids any kind of action that restrains petitioning, or revenge being taken on petitioners, Li added.
Chen Jiwen, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said that letters and calls agencies have been more active in recent years in hearing public opinion through different channels, including the Internet.
Gong Weibin, a professor in public administration at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said that compared with filing a lawsuit, petitioning remains a more convenient and effective method for lodging complaints.
China is in a period of rapid social transition, during which interest-related disputes are surging, making petitioning a thorny issue for the government, he said.
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