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New rules raise transparency in legislative decision making

CHINA'S top legislature yesterday changed its rules of procedure to ensure the public is told why officials have been dismissed. The revisions also placed time limits on speeches and may lead to opening legislative sessions to private citizens.

On the transparency front, previous rules required only the release of information about newly appointed officials, and the reasons for dismissals were often omitted, a practice that left the public wondering why the former official lost his or her job.

The first such amendment since the rules of procedure were established 22 years ago is aimed at increasing the efficiency and accountability of the Chinese legislature, according to a document issued by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.

The rules of procedure set out formalities for meetings of the committee, which decides important state issues and laws.

The amendment requires that notices of personnel changes "include profiles of officials and reasons for appointments and dismissals."

The latest case was the firing of Zhu Zhigang as the director of the Standing Committee's Budgetary Work Committee in October. The legislature failed to explain the removal.

The public did not learn the reason behind it until an NPC spokesman revealed at a press conference later that Zhu was "under investigation for suspected violations of discipline and law."

Hou Jianguo, president of the Anhui-based University of Science and Technology of China, said the increase in transparency "reflects the development of China's political democracy."

The amendment also imposes stricter controls over the length of speeches and prevents digressions by NPC Standing Committee members at legislative meetings.

"NPC Standing Committee members' speeches should not exceed 15 minutes at group meetings and a second speech on the same topic should not last more than 10 minutes," the amendment said.

The time limit can be extended only if the meeting's moderator agrees.

Hou, also a member of the NPC Standing Committee, said the new practice should help ensure thorough discussions and that all opinions are heard.

Michael J. Glennon, professor of International Law at Tufts University in the United States, said via e-mail that there is nothing wrong with time limits provided they are imposed equally, without regard to the political content of the speech.

"In the US Congress, both houses impose time limits, both in committee sessions and on the floor of each body," he said.

Also under the amendment, legislative sessions will be open to more people.

"With the improvement of the people's congress system, ordinary citizens could attend the sessions as well," said NPC Standing Committee member Guo Lei.

Currently, the public can learn what happened in the bimonthly legislative meetings only through media coverage.

Cai Dingjian, a professor at the Beijing-based China University of Political Science and Law, said that allowing non-legislators to attend legislative sessions "could be an opportunity for public education about the country's political system, as well as public supervision."


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