"Challenge 2008 -- The Six-year National Development Plan (2002-2007)," proposed by Premier Yu Shyi-kun shortly after he became took office was approved on May 31. The plan involves three major reforms, four core projects, seven goals and 10 major investment plans. With the economy slow, cross-strait economic and trade issues unresolved and international competition fierce, it is important to concentrate resources and give priority to key national projects if we are to eliminate corruption and cultivate national strength and competitiveness.
The most praiseworthy aspect of Yu's plan is that unlike the "10 Major Construction Projects," "12 Major Construction Projects" and "Six-year National Development Plans," it is not concerned solely with large public infrastructure projects. It also places importance on software development. It is a plan that emphasizes both hardware and software.
Another praiseworthy aspect of the plan is that government and society will work together, with 35.25 percent of the necessary funds coming from the private sector. Government agencies won't be given all the contracts by central government, but central and local governments will work together, with the central government taking on the heavier responsibilities and local governments the lighter. Whether this improves overall efficiency or helps to eliminate resistance to the implementation of government plans, partner relationships between central and local govern-ments and society are very positive models for national development work.
However, I feel the development plan still fails to address the main development needs.
The 10 main investment plans involve: cultivating talent for the e-generation; developing culturally creativity industries; developing an international base for research, development and innovation; increasing value-added production; doubling the number of overseas tourists; developing a digital Taiwan; developing the nation into an operations headquarters; improving the transport infrastructure; conserving water resources and the ecology; and constructing new residential communities.
These goals all sound like major items, but a look at the details makes it plain that a lot of trifling local government matters or routine agency issues have made their way into the plan. Overall the plan resembles a patchwork quilt of major and minor items with the budgets for some goals just a few hundred million New Taiwan dollars and other items that will cost more than NT$100 billion.
A National Development Plan, should, by definition, include only items too big for one ministry or other authority to implement, or complex items requiring huge levels of funding and whose impact will be far reaching and which therefore require special treatment. It is inappropriate to include both large and small matters, thereby diverting attention from the primary national development goals. It is also inappropriate to rehash old plans.
Since the DPP came to power, we have seen former premier Tang Fei's (唐飛) "National Construction Plan for the New Century," former premier Chang Chun-hsiung's (張俊雄) "8100" and now Yu's "Challenge 2008." What happened to the previous plans? What stage are they at? Is the government going to propose a new plan every time it appoints a new premier and just discard the old one?
The important parts of a plan are vision, feasibility and effective implementation. I would hope that the government will not allow its development plans to become mere slogans or political props, leaving the people of Taiwan feeling that, "it's beautiful to have dreams and hope follows in their wake."
The financing of the National Development Plan must also be properly planned. We should be thankful that in drafting this plan, the government abandoned the KMT's habit of developing grandiose projects and kept the amount of overall investments at NT$2.65 trillion. The government (including special-purpose funds) will contribute NT$1.73 trillion (an average of NT$288.7 billion per year) and the private sector will kick in NT$920 billion.
If the government's appropriation budget can be increased by 1.04 percent for each of the next six years, public expenditure restructured and reallocated according to political importance and special-purpose funds come up with NT$342.5 billion, then the government will have the money it needs for its share of Yu's plan.
But government finances have deteriorated in recent years and total debt currently stands at NT$3.6 trillion. If hidden or potential debt is added, total debt estimates reach as high as NT$4 trillion to NT$5 trillion. The Directorate General of Budget Accounting and Statistics points out that central government debt amounts to 29.4 percent of GDP (NT$2.8 trillion). This is more than the average debt burden of newly industrialized countries, which stands at 24.6 percent.
The Ministry of Finance has pointed out that there will be shortages in each annual revenue item this year and that this year's deficit will be bigger than last year. So it would appear the financial situation is going to get worse. Raising funds for the development plan under such circumstances will mean increasing the amount of government debt. The need to plan for the financing of the development plan should itself be added to the goals of the plan.
Another fundamental concern is that responsibility for the implementation of the National Development Plan be clearly apportioned.
It is pleasing that, in addition to specialist authorities, ministers without portfolio will also monitor the projects. It is a good idea for these ministers to be actively involved in the research and drafting of the plan. Democratic politics is accountable politics and we shouldn't have to wait for an election for this accountability to be tested. Political officials hold high positions and wield great power. They must be accountable in equal proportions, accept strict scrutiny and follow the highest standards.
It is to be hoped that the government will, starting with this plan, establish a system for official scrutiny and accountability. Those responsible for policy mistakes, bad decisions, failure to meet specifications and those without the necessary managerial or decision-making skills should able to be brought to account as soon as their mistakes come to light. Anyone whose position becomes untenable must resign. Anyone who owes the people of Taiwan an apology must issue that apology. Under no circumstances must accommodation be made for people who are unfit to serve.
Finally, plans with the potential to bring only small benefits but much controversy should be assessed most carefully. Yu's plan was drafted with an eye on future elections, so it includes political promises that are of little net national benefit, such as the construction of an international airport in central Taiwan and the Central Taiwan Science-based Park. It also includes potentially controversial proposals such as creating a national network of country footpaths and a mountain tourism system, which might compromise nature conservation and disaster-prevention mea-sures. These elements should be re-evaluated.
Plans that bring few net benefits are a waste of resources and pork-barrel politics is worse than corruption. Disturbing the environment in the name of tourism, landscaping, farming or improved communications is folly.
Yang Chung-hsin is a member of the Taipei Society and a professor in the Chinese Culture University's department of landscape architecture.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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