Opening Remarks at the International Workshop on Public Participation in Regulations Review and Filing Towards Law Harmonisation

29 Mar 2012

By Christophe Bahuet, Country Director
Changsha, Hunan Province

26-29 March 2012

Distinguished guests, 
ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of UNDP China, I am delighted to welcome you to this International Workshop on Public Participation in Regulations Review and Filing towards Law Harmonisation.

As part of its programme of cooperation with China, UNDP is actively supporting the strengthening of governance and the rule of law. In this context, UNDP and the National People’s Congress have developed an increasingly close and fruitful working relationship. Like the event we held last week on legal harmonisation, today’s event is being organised under a project named “Governance for Equitable Development”. This project is being supported by the European Union in China and implemented with strong support from CICETE and I would like to convey UNDPs sincere appreciation to our partners for their support, and for the organisation of this workshop. I would also like to thank the Hunan provincial authorities for hosting the event and warmly welcoming us to Changsha.

Under the project, one of the key focus areas of the cooperation between UNDP and the National People’s Congress has been centred on enabling citizens and civil society to participate in the law making process and the drafting of regulations. As expressed by President Hu Jintao at the 17th Party Congress, public participation and transparency in government increases public trust in state institutions and public support for the laws passed. This confidence leads to better laws, which are likely to be more effectively enforced.

The adoption of the Law on Legislation in 2000 reflected that National People’s Congress’ strong commitment to strengthening law making processes and within this process, to provide opportunities for the Chinese people to participate and provide inputs through various channels. This commitment was exemplified, as one of the most recent examples, by the national public consultation held to revise the Individual Income Taxation Law in April last year. The 220,000 comments and opinions received from citizens were a clear indication of the genuine demand and interest that exist in the Chinese society with respect to both the participatory processes and the issues that the laws are addressing. The national consultation process can be seen as a successful pilot in terms of both the number and quality of responses received, which resulted in specific amendments made to the law, in particular regarding the minimum threshold for income taxation.

To contribute to the piloting of legislative public hearings in partnership with the National People’s Congress, UNDP has supported policy research, developed guidelines on public participation procedures and trained 1,300 officials from National and Local People’s Congresses. Last November, a national consultative workshop, which we supported, helped capture and share experience in holding public hearings. Most encouragingly, discussions showed that there was a remarkable collection of innovative initiatives introduced at the local levels to involve the public. Key recommendations were also formulated, which included the need to standardise and simplify procedures, clarify the rights and obligations of participants, improve the selection process and increase diversity among participants through open and public nominations, increase representation for interest groups, follow up more closely on hearing results to ensure that real changes are made and felt by the public, and to diversify public hearing channels such as online hearings, written submissions.

Based on the experience that has been gained through these efforts, our workshop provides an excellent opportunity to apply these recommendations to the addressing of key issues that are central to successful public participation, specifically in the legislative review and filing mechanisms which encompass both the review processes of new and existing laws.

First, however, we must overcome the technical challenge. Laws are frequently drafted in highly technical language, making it hard for citizens to comment effectively. For quality engagement with citizens, it may be useful for public consultations to offer accessible information on the key provisions of the law, the changes to be made, how the new law will work in practice, and what are the key questions for citizens to be consulted on.

Then there is the expertise challenge. Citizens’ opinions can be a valuable source of input. In addition, there is within society, specific expertise and convincing evidence to be harnessed that can bring valuable concrete contributions to the drafting of laws. Civil society organisations and professional associations can therefore have a specific and useful role in presenting policy research and suggestions on behalf of the interest groups they represent.

Lastly, there is an expectation of feedback. The feedback that lawmakers provide on comments received from the public is important as it allows citizens to understand how their comments were reflected in the final laws. It will also ensure that they are more likely to trust and continue to engage in law and policy making processes.

These topics are among those that will be addressed during today’s workshop and it is encouraging to see that we have among us a number of senior officials and high level experts both from China and other countries. I trust that our discussions will lead to a useful and concrete exchange of experiences and ideas, which will ultimately help us to identify new directions and next steps for public participation in the law making process in China.

Thank you.