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UPDATED: July 23, 2012 NO. 30 JULY 26, 2012
Speaking Truth to Power
Counselors help the government listen to the people's voices
By Wang Hairong

JOB OFFER: Wuhan Mayor Tang Liangzhi (left) issues the appointment letter to Hu Quanzhi, a counselor of the local government, on May 29 (CFP)

Hu Quanzhi, a 55-year-old resident of Wuhan City in central China's Hubei Province, is a man of ideas. In the past 13 years, while working as a teacher at Wuhan No.1 Polytechnic School, he put forward more than 300 suggestions to the municipal government, totaling more than 300,000 characters in length.

Hu has always been enthusiastic about public affairs. In the 1980s, Hu, then a young worker, wrote to the People's Daily, a leading newspaper, suggesting that postal authorities standardize envelopes. His advice was taken by the government, and Hu felt rewarded.

In 1999, Hu wrote to the Wuhan mayor for the first time, warning him of the safety hazards of skyscrapers.

Since then, Hu has advanced many ideas to the municipal government. In 2002, he suggested tree planting in the open areas in downtown Wuhan. His proposal was adopted, and the city made the tree-planting project one of its top 10 priorities. Because of the amount of advice he had put forward, Hu was honored as one of Wuhan's "Top 10 Enthusiastic Residents" in 2003 and 2004.

In the meantime, Hu also submitted commentary on public policies to local papers and Websites. He serves as a forum moderator for the Internet portal Cnhan.com. He once criticized the Wuhan Municipal Government for its inadequate efforts in protecting ancient buildings.

Although Hu has been making suggestions to the government for more than a decade, he did not expect that this would one day become his profession until he learned that the Wuhan Municipal Government was recruiting three counselors from the general public in mid-April. A counselor's duty is to advise the government.

Hu competed for the position and won. On May 29, he and two other people received appointment letters from Wuhan Mayor Tang Liangzhi, and started their three-year tenure at the Wuhan Municipal Government's Counselors' Office.

Innovative recruitment

The appointment of counselors from ordinary citizens in Wuhan marked an audacious reform in the organization's history. Counselors' offices were set up at various levels of government shortly after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, but never before had counselors been chosen through open recruitment and competition. "It is an unprecedented reform," said Xiang Yue, Deputy Director of the Counselors' Office of the Wuhan Municipal Government.

According to the Regulations on Government Counselors that went into effect on October 1, 2010, government counselors are mainly chosen from members of the eight non-Communist parties in China and persons without party affiliation. The regulations also stipulate that candidates should be recommended by government leaders or relevant organizations.

"At the very beginning, counselors were directly selected by the United Front Work Department of central and local committees of the Communist Party of China, and candidates were primarily chosen for their political backgrounds. But since the late 20th century, many candidates have been appointed because of their academic achievements," said Wang Hanping, a colleague of Xiang.

Previously, all candidates for the Wuhan Municipal Government's Counselors' Office were recommended by their employers, and most candidates were officials at or above the level of department head or scholars holding an academic title equivalent to a professor.

Xiang said that this year, the Wuhan Municipal Government considered three alternatives: They could be directly appointed by the mayor, recommended by their employers and then chosen by relevant departments, or openly recruited.

The city eventually decided to recruit openly.

Wuhan made several exceptions to conventional selection criteria. For instance, it no longer required a candidate to be endorsed by their employers.

"Any Wuhan residents whose advice had been accepted by municipal leaders or government departments or covered by the media in the preceding three years can apply for the position," the recruitment announcement said.

"A total of 175 people applied for selection, and 90 percent were self-recommended," Xiang said.

Wuhan also relaxed age limits for candidates. The Regulations on Government Counselors stipulate that anyone serving as government counselors for the first time should be between the ages of 55 and 65, and a counselor cannot serve beyond the age of 70. This year, the Wuhan Municipal Government only required candidates to be under 60.

"A counselor's ability and influence don't have much to do with age. This campaign was meant to find different ways to improve our work," said a publicity official in the Wuhan Municipal Government's Counselors' Office.

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