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Soliciting views for greater transparency
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08:30, July 03, 2008

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Borrowed from the West, the use of public hearings to solicit views on public policies and legislation has been increasing.

The 1996 Law on Administrative Punishment officially introduced the public hearing system.

The use of such forums was added to the Law on Pricing in 1998, which stated that a public hearing had to be held before fixing the price of certain public services and utilities.

In July 2000, China put in force a law stipulating that the standing committees of regional people's congresses should solicit opinions from various social groups for making laws and regulations.

The process could take various forms, including symposiums, debate sessions or hearings.

Major public hearings:

The government in January held a public hearing on cutting domestic mobile phone roaming charges. The final pricing scheme was suspended because of divided opinion.

A total of 18 representatives, including five consumers, five telecommunication operator officials and three experts, made submissions at the hearing.

Two plans, which suggested price cuts ranging from 14.9 percent to 63 percent, were discussed.

China's top legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC), held its first legislative hearing in September 2005, on lifting the cutoff point of the personal income tax from 800 yuan ($117) to 1,500 yuan, a major move to amend the Law on Personal Income Tax.

About 40 people from various walks of life and regions nationwide, selected from nearly 5,000 applicants, attended the hearing, with 20 speaking for the general public.

Their opinions were said to have provided "an important basis" for the NPC Standing Committee to make amendments to the personal income tax law.

The change in the cutoff point, the first in more than 20 years, considered rising wage levels, the cost of living and inflation. The adjustment of the threshold aroused much concern among the general public.

After a full day's discussion, the threshold starting point was raised to 1,600 yuan.

The first public hearing on the environment was held in April 2005 by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) on a project involving the Yuanmingyuan, or Old Summer Palace, in Beijing.

The project installed plastic lining at the bottom of a lake at the palace site to prevent water from leaking into the ground. But it evoked widespread criticism for disrupting the natural water cycle and affecting the lake's self-cleaning process.

The hearing lasted four and a half hours and allowed a diverse group of 120 delegates to express their opinions over the project's impact on the soil, groundwater and ecosystem.

Participants also suggested alternative solutions to water loss, including the use of treated wastewater.

Two months later, SEPA made a final ruling ordering the removal of the plastic membrane covering the bottom of the lake. It called for the use of natural materials such as clay to prevent water seepage and a comprehensive plan for supplying water to the park.

Source: China Daily

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