Throwing open the doors

By Liu Linlin Source:Global Times Published: 2013-1-25 1:28:01


Deputies to the Xi'an People's Congress, Shaanxi Province, raise their hands Wednesday to approve the reports including the work report presented by the city government. Photo: CFP
Deputies to the Xi'an People's Congress, Shaanxi Province, raise their hands Wednesday to approve the reports including the work report presented by the city government. Photo: CFP

Cheng Junrong has come a long way since his peers, mostly migrant workers, voted for him into the National People's Congress (NPC) as a deputy five years ago. Over the last five years he has analyzed amendments to laws and proposals to various government agencies, but at the end of last year he retired, having reached the mandatory five-year limit.

As a migrant worker, he has lived through the difficulties imposed by the household registration, or hukou system, and he's witnessed what it's like to receive unfair payments caused by problems with labor laws.

When he saw his suggestions included as amendments to the Labor Law, he was encouraged and handed over more proposals to improve the working conditions of migrant workers, one of the most disadvantaged groups in the country.

"The construction of modern society needs a huge amount of migrant labor. But if their welfare or payments can't be settled, there will be huge crisis in the future," Cheng said.

Although he's moved on to a new role as a delegate at the Party congress in November, he's somewhat wistful about his time with the NPC. "I can feel that the Party and the government are paying more attention to people at the grass roots. The fact that I was voted as a deputy for five years is a clear example," Cheng said.

The NPC and the National Committee of the CPPCC will convene in March with thousands of deputies and members gathering to hand over their proposals and discuss lawmaking.

For the first time ever, the NPC is selecting urban and rural deputies based on population ratios, according to reports in the China News Service. While it's certain that more NPC deputies from the grass-roots level will show up, the extent of their contribution remains in question.

Empty gestures?

Professor Cai Dingjian, who worked with the NPC before passing away in 2010, told the Nanfang Daily that year that there had only been two occasions when proposals from deputies actually became new laws.

The first was an amendment to the Constitution in 1993 and the other was an explanation of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Some members have been criticized for not handing over a single case, including high profile figures such as Olympic champions Liu Xiang and Yang Wei. Both were exposed by the media as either not proposing cases or not even showing up.

"I received my suggestions from migrants and I learned from other senior deputies, a process that takes time," Cheng said. "More new delegates will be seen this year, so there might be fewer proposals."

There will be a total of 3,000 deputies elected in January, with a larger proportion coming from the grass-roots level.

Deputies from the grass roots including workers, farmers and intellectuals account for 46.74 percent of all members of the Shanxi Provincial People's Congress, up 3.86 percent from 2012, meanwhile, the number of officials has dropped 2.8 percent.

Long-term hurdles

The strongest focus of the "two sessions" will undoubtedly be corruption, given the recent "eight rules" laid down by the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in December 2012, demanding Party officials, especially those at higher levels, take the lead in changing their work styles.

One proposal that has been widely supported by the public is the disclosure of assets by officials; however, there has been limited progress despite 17 straight years of discussion.

Fan Songqing, deputy secretary of the CPPCC Guangzhou committee in Guangdong Province, proposed a citywide pilot program for asset disclosure among government officials on January 18. Fan even made his own family's assets public through the Nandu Daily.

Members of the CPPCC Jiangxi Provincial committee hand over similar proposals at the local "two sessions." Liu Weidong, a member suggested that officials who hide assets should be punished and local regulations should be made to establish a supervisory mechanism, the publicity department of the CPC Jiangxi Provincial Committee said on its Sina Weibo account.

Zhang Shiye, a 62-year-old resident of Rizhao, Shandong Province, who last year tipped off the authorities about an official who illegally constructed luxury apartments, told the Global Times that his ultimate goal was an asset disclosure system.

"If the disclosure system was established, we could clearly see whether an official has breached regulations or has made illegal gains. And there would be no need for me to risk so much to reveal the truth. My family wouldn't have to worry about threats from officials," Zhang said.

The State Council in 1995 enacted a regulation that would make officials above the county level report their assets. However, few paid attention to it and the regulation failed to curb corruption.

"Fighting corruption will be a major topic this year and asset disclosure will be pushed forward, as the trend throughout the country is to combat corruption," Gan Chaoying, a professor of law at Peking University, told the Global Times.

"Local governments are voicing their determination on anti-corruption, but some are doing this because of pressure from the central government. The basic solution is to embed anti-corruption efforts into lawmaking," Gan added.

However, Gan said there won't be any significant amendments this year, because this year's major focus is the successfully completion of the leadership transition, and that breakthroughs would be seen sometime next year.

Public gets in on the action

Although delegates often take their time and ease into the job, the public has been more active than ever in recent years.

Right after the New Year, as heavy smog enveloped the north of the country, Beijing proposed a draft law to help control air pollution. NGOs and the public were quick to express their opinions online and voice support.

"The public has realized the importance of controlling air pollution amid the city's smog and their opinions on the draft will be a good opportunity for them to get involved, which is why we started an online campaign," Wang Qiuxia, a researcher from Nature University, told the Global Times.

Guangzhou residents have also kicked off a campaign on Sina Weibo to sign a letter on air quality control and hand it over to the city's "two sessions."

"The Internet has become a vital platform to express public opinions and I can see that from current discussions on the local 'two sessions.' Bold opinions from Web users will boost the transparency of governance and could be more efficient in monitoring as the lawmaking process is sometimes very slow," Gan said.

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