Beijing orders petitioners to go to local level

By Wang Yiqiong Source:Global Times Published: 2014-4-24 23:28:01

China will ban people bypassing their local authority to file complaints at the highest level from May 1, although mail and online petitioning of Beijing will continue unaffected.  

China's top body for petitioning announced the new regulation in a statement on its website on Thursday: Petitioners can hand letters into government departments of the same level or one level higher.

For example, the resident of a county can file a complaint at the county land bureau, the county government or an upper city government that supervises the county, explained Zhang Enxi, deputy chief of the State Bureau for Letters and Calls.

If the petitioner tries to go one level higher than that, the higher authorities will reject the petition outright, the statement said.

Under the existing system, petitioners inundate the national and provincial capitals on a daily basis.

The new rules say central authorities in Beijing will not accept complaints that should already have been handled by the provinces.

There are exceptions: complaints about corrupt provincial or central government officials, petitions about issues that should be handled on a multi-sector or pan-provincial basis or issues improperly handled by provincial governments, People's Daily quoted Zhang as saying on Thursday.

"The purpose of this regulation is to clarify jurisdiction, regulate procedure and improve the efficiency of handling petitions," Zhang told the Beijing-based newspaper. "It is expected to help citizens file petitions in an orderly manner."

The State bureau will also turn down petitions that fall under the jurisdiction of legislative bodies and judicial departments, it said.

The ban aims to stop people taking their local grievance directly to the highest level by simply walking into capital city offices, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance told the Global Times.

Such "bypass visits" should be limited as eventually every case must be bounced back down and addressed at the local level, explained Yang Weidong.

"Petition bodies themselves don't handle the matter," Yang said.

He suggested people petition online or write e-mails under the new regulations.

It has become common practice for petitioners to skip township and county levels to report grievances at city, provincial departments or even the State authorities in Beijing.

The situation has long overwhelmed central, provincial and city petition departments and damaged their potential efficiency, explained Li Danyang, a professor at the Public Administration Department of Beihang University.

"Bypass petitioning" not only costs people time and money, Li told the Global Times, but also disturbs the social order as people are intercepted by their local governments or punished by police.

It would be easy to execute the ban, a Beijing Youth Daily editorial argued, but harder to rebuild people's trust. That could only be achieved by improving democracy and governance at the local level.

Many commentators doubt whether regulations alone will prevent petitioners pouring into Beijing and argue it is time to dismantle the entire petition system.

"The petition system should be abolished and the judicial door be opened up through greater judicial independence," Yu Jianrong, a campaigning sociologist on rural issues at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, wrote on his microblog.

"The petition departments can be turned into legal assistance or mediation offices."

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