Wed, Jul 14, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Storms are predictable, failings go uncorrected

By Ku Er-teh顧爾德

For a mere tropical storm, Mindulle brought considerable rain. Once again the people suf-

fered and everyone from students taking the university entrance examinations to landslide victims will blame the government. Whoever is to blame, taxpayers have the right to hold the government responsible.

During this disaster we saw none of the inertia or passing of the buck that we saw among government officials at the time of the Pachang Creek tragedy. Members of the central government traveled to inspect affected areas, and though there were complaints that legislators from different parties were not given equal opportunity to visit, and though there was anger over Minister of the Interior Su Jia-chyuan's (蘇嘉全) comments ("What's there to see with embankments? Just give some money."), officials dared not neglect their duty during a disaster of these proportions.

Su's comments are not what one would expect from an elected official, but we could also question the wisdom of agreeing to provide cash relief upon mere inspection of burst embankments without having more detailed information. Naturally, such relief was exactly what local residents and officials wanted -- government officials happily promising subsidies after seeing the disaster with their own eyes.

This calamity, however, has brought to light serious problems in the way the government makes decisions. It is not the slow reactions of a handful of politicians; it is problems with thinking and the system.

According to Taipower, several hydroelectric power plants along the Tachia River were damaged, with the cost estimated at NT$3 billion (US$88.9 million). The total cost of the damage was NT$10 billion. This amount is equal to one-sixtieth of the proposed budget for military purchases from the US, an expenditure that has stirred up controversy.

In light of the 921 Earthquake and Typhoon Toraji, why didn't Taipower prepare for a potential expenditure of NT$10 billion, knowing that another disaster could strike at any time?

In the aftermath of Mindulle's flooding, some officials in water resource agencies talking privately to the press have criticized the continued application of ecological engineering in areas affected by the 921 Earthquake, saying it has contributed to the landslides. This is very interesting indeed. Post-921 reconstruction has been going on for over four years. Has the lid been kept on criticism of eco-engineering, or have those that oppose it been guilty of dereliction of duty?

The public may not understand the pros and cons of eco-engineering, but can't we rest easy that the government gave it careful consideration before deciding to pursue it? Or could it be that the Ministry of the Interior failed to solicit expert advice?

It also could be that the fault does not lie in eco-engineering, but that some people who do not agree with the concept are using the situation as an opportunity to stir things up.

The College Entrance Examination Center, in explaining why it had vacillated about how to handle the examinations, said that this was the first typhoon situation it had dealt with and that it did not have a precedent to follow. More importantly, however, the center resorted to appeals of "fairness" that were in fact unfair, while educational reformers were complaining about the excessive influence of exams on education and were calling for more diversified enrollment procedures.

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