On Tuesday night, many victims of last year's 921 earthquake passed a fearful night in their shabby temporary shelters as Typhoon Bilis cut a swathe across Taiwan. But amid all the travails of earthquakes and storms, perhaps the biggest psychological blow comes from reports that Wu Chao-feng (
Chungliao township was one of the hardest hit areas in the 921 earthquake. As township mayor, Wu handled all government and private donations of relief supplies and reconstruction funds. If Wu is indeed guilty of embezzlement, that will really be a humanitarian disaster. What a contrast to the shining humanity shown by Taiwanese around the country when they extended generous help to victims in the wake of the quake.
Investigators found large quantities of relief supplies when they searched his villa on Monday. Entire units of prefabricated houses stood in the villa's confines apparently as games rooms equipped for playing mahjong. While many quake victims still had totally inadequate housing, Wu spent large sums of money building his extravagant villa -- certainly a shock to the eyes of anyone who knew the situation. Prosecutors are also questioning witnesses and looking into planning documents to see if Wu has embezzled around NT$16 million in road reconstruction funds. Wu has called the whole affair a misunderstanding, arguing that he was planning to give the relief supplies to quake victims and that the prefab houses were meant to be temporary shelters for victims in case of mudslides. The investigation should reveal the truth.
The 921 post-quake reconstruction effort is a massive, complex and time-consuming endeavor. The KMT government put tremendous effort into it, and received little thanks. The new government has already appointed ministers without portfolio to oversee reconstruction, but according to a survey in July, 40 percent of the quake victims were dissatisfied with the results of reconstruction work.
In the past, many believed that the government was not working hard enough to rebuild quake-stricken areas, and that NGOs were much more efficient. Now Wu's case has highlighted another side of the issue. There are many "disaster bugs" (災蟲) eating away at government and private efforts in disaster relief and reconstruction. All the hard work and money thrown into reconstruction efforts are devoured along the way by parasites. As a result, the victims cannot see any help coming to them. Resentment against the government begins to build up.
The "disaster bug" theory can explain in part why government efforts have fallen short of public expectations. It will soon be one full year since the 921 quake struck. The planning phase of the reconstruction work has just been completed. The actual rebuilding work is yet to begin. Despite its financial difficulties, the government is expected to allocate several hundred billion NT dollars to the reconstruction of quake-stricken areas. Certainly, quite a few people's mouths are already watering over this colossal pie. If the government wants value for the money spent on reconstruction, it should start debugging its projects. Otherwise, however big the budget is, the parasites will consume it.
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