China moves to smoothen petitioning channels

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BEIJING, March 10 (Xinhua) — Kong Rong from east China’s Anhui Province hit the lowest point of her life 10 years ago, when her mother was killed in a traffic accident and left her with a heavy debt from medical and funeral bills.

The driver failed to pay 157,000 yuan (22,700 U.S. dollar) of compensation awarded by the courts. The only breadwinner in his family, he made just subsistence wages and had few assets.

“I went through a really hard time. I told myself not to get sick, because I could not afford to,” Kong, now in her 50s, recalled.

Kong resorted to petitioning the local government. In 2011, she finally received around 8,700 U.S. dollars from a relief fund which used public money to address difficult court cases in which both plaintiff and defendant were poor.

Kong is one of numerous Chinese people to benefit from a petitioning system that dates back to 1950s.

Also known as “letters and calls,” petitioning is the administrative system for hearing public complaints and grievances. In China, petitioners generally see injustice in land acquisition, healthcare, education or environmental protection.

Petition handlers are working to make filing a complaint easier, lately by pushing the process online. China has an online population in excess of 730 million and 95 percent use mobile phones.

The State Bureau for Letters and Calls started receiving petitions via the Internet in July 2013. Last year, some bureaus allowed petitioning through mobile apps and the popular messaging app WeChat.

The number of petitions lodged via the Internet in 2016 was more than double that of a year earlier, said Shu Xiaoqin, head of the State Bureau for Letters and Calls, while meeting reporters at the ongoing annual sessions of China’s national legislature and advisory body.

“Petitioning through the Internet is becoming our main channel,” Shu said, adding that mobile devices accounted for more than half of online submissions this year.

In addition, some local governments have asked legislators, political advisors and scholars to help petitioners. He Zongwen is one.

In 2011, former truck driver Gong Jianping was severely paralysed in a traffic accident and his wife had to quit her job to take care of him. Since the couple did not have the means to sue for compensation, they petitioned the government.

He, a local political advisor, helped the family bring the case to court and secure compensation of 94,200 U.S. dollars.

“Each political advisor has energy and the hundreds of thousands of political advisors can be an important force in solving social conflicts,” He said.

Petitioning is an important channel for administrative aid and an important way for the Communist Party of China (CPC) to hear public opinion, said Xin Ming, a professor with the Party School of the CPC Central Committee. “Petitioning should work alongside the rule of law.”

Last year, domestic movie “I Am Not Madame Bovary” thrust petitioners into the spotlight. It told the story of a woman who spends years traveling back and forth to Beijing to petition after being swindled by her ex-husband. She meets officials at different levels who interfere with her petition and some are removed from their posts.

The social satire grossed about 69 million U.S. dollars in ticket sales, partly from petition-handling staff.

Responding to a reporter’s question, Shu Xiaoqin said she had watched the movie and pledged to “prevent the plot in the movie from happening in China.”

Xinhua

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