Wed, Jan 10, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Power plant issue is a legal matter

By Wang Shao-yu 王紹堉

Whether or not to build the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant (核四) is a technical question requiring more expertise than I possess, so I cannot comment on it. The question of how to repair the damage, however, after a budget has been passed and construction commenced -- and then suddenly halted -- is purely a legal matter. On this issue, I would like to offer a few points for discussion.

Some scholars take the view that the power plant budget issue isn't a legal matter. They argue that, because the legislature has given the executive branch the discretion to execute the budget, the decision not to administer the budget, partially or completely, should not be considered illegal. This might be correct, at least with regard to some details of the budget. For example, the budget for the Ministry of National Defense stipulates a personnel quota for the entire armed forces of 400,000. After weighing up the actual needs, however, the executive branch decided to hire only 380,000 military personnel -- 20,000 fewer than originally budgeted -- constituting an obvious reduction in personnel costs. As the goal of the legislature -- national security -- was achieved, the move by the executive branch couldn't be called illegal, and could moreover probably be explained away in the year-end settlement.

Completely failing to carry out an entire plan or budget, however, is a different matter altogether. The budget was originally drafted by the executive branch and thus represents the direction of government policy. Once a law has been passed by the legislature, if the executive branch could choose at will not to carry it out, not only would the legislature have failed to achieve its objective, but allocation of the nation's resources would also be seriously affected. When the US Congress passes a multi-item appropriations bill, if the president feels the bill is unfit, he or she can veto it by refusing to sign it, thus preventing the bill from becoming law. This is similar to the veto procedure for any other kind of bill. If Taiwan's executive branch has the authority not to administer laws that have been passed by the legislature, why would it need the power of "veto," or what Taiwan's Constitution calls "reconsideration?"

US justices once ruled that, where appropriations bills are concerned, the president must either sign the bill or veto it in its entirety, rather than reject only certain parts of it. The justices clearly know that in certain appropriations bills, a minority of representatives might try to sneak in appropriations that would benefit certain electorates -- a big flaw in the constitutional system of government of the US. Still, in order to preserve the principle of maintaining a separation of powers, it ruled not to give the president the authority to veto parts of appropriations bills. Thus, in the US system, the executive branch doesn't choose not to implement mere parts of a budget.

Going back a step, if Taiwan's Grand Justices were to rule that the executive branch has the discretion not to implement a budget passed by the legislature, even those who disagreed with the ruling would nonetheless have to accept it, for the sake of political and legal stability -- just as presidential candidate Al Gore ultimately accepted the rulings regarding the 2000 US presidential election. But any authority not to implement a "budget" should refer to the entire budget -- from the very beginning of the project. In this way, even if legislative objectives aren't achieved, at least no immediate, direct harm would be caused to the nation and the public. Has there ever been any legislation to give Taiwan's executive branch the authority to call a halt to a project and decide compensation issues, despite having already implemented the major part of the budget, with more than NT$100 billion either already paid out or owed? A broad interpretation by the Council of Grand Justices would create serious instability in the government's economic planning, and might even precipitate a crisis. It would also fail to preserve the spirit of the Constitution, under which the Executive Yuan is answerable to the Legislative Yuan.

This story has been viewed 3115 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top