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China Marks Historical Step With Hearing System

China's first ever central government-sponsored hearing on setting prices of railway tickets opened here Saturday, bringing opposition to price gouging that led the Ministry of Railways to re-think its practices.

"The hearing shows Chinese government's decision to implement policy abiding by laws and let public participate in price-setting," said Qi Hong, a customer representative.

The public hearing on price setting was organized by the State Development Planning Commission (SDPC).

Thirty-three delegates representing the customers, railway employees, government officials and scholars participated in the hearing, discussing the pros and cons of the price-setting by the government on passenger trains.

According to related laws, representatives raise questions, discuss and debate the price-adjusting guidelines by the Ministry of Railways. Over 100 journalists from home and abroad witnessed the historical event. The latter part of the hearing was broadcastby television nationwide.

The 12 customer representatives engaged in active discussions on the feasibility and correctness of price hikes from economic, social, and ethical perspectives.

"The representatives were quite critical at the meeting," said Dong Jingsheng, vice secretary of China's Consumers Association.

"We were not surprised at those questions. It is people's right to ask about the prices set by the government. It is an unprecedented chance between the government and the public to communicate," said Yu Chuan, official with the Ministry.

China has formed the Price Law and the interim regulations of hearings on government decisions on prices since the price hearingwas first carried out in 1993.

Nine procedures were included in Saturday's meeting. Most representatives believed the Ministry of Railways should improve management and service. Representatives from the Ministry said thehearing had a significant impact on the transportation department.

After the hearing, SDPC will revise the price guidelines and hand them over to the State Council for examination and approval.

"The form of a hearing is quite new. Although it differs from the French form, they have the same purpose, involving common people in the decision-making process of the government. The hearing demonstrates fairness and democracy in China," said Philippe Rochot, a correspondent from French 2 Television.

"The hearing indicates the success of China's democracy and legal system," said Wang Yang, vice minister of SDPC.

(Xinhua News Agency January 12,2002)

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