In April 2004, faced with a legal system that lacked oversight and transparency, the Chongqing City Government and the Chongqing City Office of Legislative Affairs formulated four sweeping reforms to increase accountability across the municipal legal system.
The first reform, directed at accountability for executive heads of departments, laid out 18 clear and uniform regulations for making department heads accountable for their performance and 7 methods for questioning and investigating infractions.
Matters directly concerning the interests of the citizens, including revising standards for rural land allocation and public utility and infrastructure distribution and development (i.e., water, electricity, natural gas, roads, education, public health, transportation, and sewage and garbage disposal) are held in public hearings by the concerned authorities.
The second stage of Chongqing City’s legal reform movement allows for all formal files concerning administrative approvals, charges, and punishments, to be examined by the Office of Legislative Affairs to review the legality of the documents. Formal files without examinations, registrations, and public distribution through the General Office of City Government were rendered invalid.
The third regulation provides for disclosure of information. It stipulated that all information on administrative affairs must be transparent except in cases involving state or business secrets and citizen privacy. This regulation also specifies when the information must be issued for citizen scrutiny through government communiqués, websites, public media, public read rooms, etc.
The fourth reform, making hearings public, provides baselines for the timely investigation of department authority related to unexpected incidents. The existing laws of the Party and the Municipal Government required much time to handle infractions, leading to long-standing resentments against public figures. By expediting and making public disciplinary actions, residents can feel more confident that their municipal court system is responding to their complaints and concerns. By publicizing the contents of hearings, arbitrary hearings can also be avoided by the authorities. Chongqing City has also begun the practice of holding public hearings online. During the most recent hearing of this type, the City estimated that approximately 100,000 people participated.
By addressing citizen dissatisfaction with department heads, by opening administrative decisions to the public, by examining administrative documents for their legality, and by standardizing and publicizing hearings, the Chongqing City government sought to increase the transparency and accountability of both the legal system and the Government as a whole. To affirm public trust in the stringency of enforcement of these measures, from July to September 2005, approximately one fifth of all 176 formal files sent for examination by the Legislative Department were either returned for revisions or rejected outright.