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Call to scrap 'zero petitions' target
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Assessing the performance of officials according to the number of petitions filed against them is counterproductive, and the so-called "zero petitions" target should be scrapped, says Sheng Changli, a National Committee member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the top political advisory body in China.

A one-sided pursuit of the "zero petitions" target encourages officials to suppress petitioners, sweep problems under the carpet, and allows social contradictions to build up until they result in unnecessary conflict.

Petitioners are simply exercising their constitutional rights, says Sheng. The Constitution says "Citizens of the People's Republic of China have the right to criticize and make suggestions to any state organ or functionary. Citizens have the right to make complaints to, and charges against, relevant state organs, and expose violation of the law or dereliction of duty by any state organ or functionary."

Furthermore, most petitions presented are entirely reasonable, according to the petitions handling office of the Ministry of Public Security.

Petitions are a way of bridging the gap between citizens and the government, and a window through which the government can see what is happening at the grass roots. They can help the authorities identify problems and shortcomings in their work, and are an early warning system for cases of injustice and corruption.

As the income gap widens and social contradictions become more visible, the number of petitions is bound to grow. Reaching the target of "zero petitions" is "an impossible mission" in the "initial stage of socialism," according to Sheng.

Local governments should pay active attention to the problems raised by petitioners, instead of seeing them as people out to "stir up trouble".

Assessing officials' performance according to the "zero petitions" target simply piles pressure on officials and encourages local governments to suppress petitions, in the process ignoring issues that could be easily solved, a Beijing News editorial also points out

The government should pay attention to petitions and use them as a tool to attack the root causes of social injustice and the law of the jungle in society, says the editorial. Only in this way will society gradually approach the ideal of "zero petitions", and living in harmony.

(China.org.cn by Wang Wei, March 16, 2009)

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