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Protecting people by regulating gov't power
By Meng Yan (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-03-13 00:06

Legislative and supervisory efforts by Chinese legislators in the past year have reflected the idea of regulating the power of government and judicial agencies and protecting the rights of the public, which experts said fits into the modern concept of the rule of law.

"Government and judicial bodies have the duty to ensure that the public fully enjoy their rights because its power derives from the people," said Zhu Jingwen, a professor of law with Renmin University of China.

Wang Shengming, deputy-director of the Commission of Legislative Affairs of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, said the power of the government and judicial agencies and the rights of the public are fundamentally consistent. But he said discordance or encroachment on the rights of the public by government or judicial agencies do exist in this country.

The traces of the old highly centralized planned economy, together with the reckless expansion of power by some government departments and local authorities in pursuit of local interests, are major causes for the improper exercise of government power, Wang analyzed.

Wang said regulation of power should focus on that of the government because it has close link to the everyday life of individuals and business operations.

He said the Law on Administrative Licensing, which was passed by the Standing Committee of the 10th NPC last August, is a good illustration on addressing a balance between efficient administration and sufficient protection of individual rights by national legislators.

Administrative licensing, referring to formal legal permission to conduct business or business-related activities, is a major governmental function exercised by authorities at all levels. But over the years, hazardous expansion of licensing items, over-elaborate procedures, poor efficiency, and under-the-table, unfair or imprecise conditions for granting licences have seriously infringed upon the rights of individuals and corporations and hampered China's efforts to build a market economy.

An extreme case is an office set up in Zhengzhou, capital of Central China's Henan Province, in 1998, to centralize the management of the local production of Mantou or steamed bread, the most loved staple food of local residents.

The office controlled the licensing for every business related to steamed bread production, from flour mills to steamed bread makers.

The State Council began a nationwide campaign to rectify the situation in 2001. State Council commissions and ministries have given up the authority to administer more than 1,000 licensing rights, and have handed 82 items over to industrial associations and other intermediary agencies.

The Law on Administrative Licensing will not only consolidate the fruit of this campaign but also step up the transformation of government functions and push for management innovations, Wang said.

The law confines the power of setting up administrative licensing items to the governments at central and provincial levels, forbids unnecessary administrative licensing and simplifies procedures to get the licenses.

Yu An, a professor of administrative law with the School of Public Policy and Management of Tsinghua University, said enforcement of the law will be a "serious, thorough and institutional revolution" for the administrative body.

"With a clear, objective and stable system of rules, the law will help form a more efficient and transparent government," said Zhao Chenggen, professor of the School of Government at Peking University.

Deng Zemin, a lawyer with Beijing Yingdao Law Firm, said he believes the practice of putting people's rights before the government's power through legislation will certainly have positive impact on judicial practices.

The legislators' efforts to regulate administrative and judicial power and protect individuals' rights have also been reflected in its supervision over the public security forces, procurators and courts in dealing with unlawfully extended custody, a major source of violations of the rights of criminal suspects.

It is a common practice for criminal suspects to be held at detention centres until the court makes its final judgment. This means that the police, procurators and judges could all illegally hold a suspect in custody for longer than is allowed.

However, some criminal suspects are sometimes held in custody for longer than the legal time limit due to either a dereliction of duty or corruption among the police, procurators or judges.

Constant supervision by the NPC Standing Committee and the NPC Committee for Internal and Judicial Affairs have led to a joint regulation by the police, procurators and court to ban such practice, according to an official with the General Office of the NPC Standing Committee who declined to be identified.

"The target of the legislators' supervision over law enforcement is not the people but the governments at all levels and the judicial bodies," he said.

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