On Tuesday, I got so worked up that my mind went completely blank after spotting an article in the Liberty Times bearing the headline "A NT$250 million fake afforestation project."
I have participated in the examination of the nation's afforestation project in my capacity as an agricultural economist. Besides myself, five professionals specializing in water and soil conservation and four forestry experts also had a hand in the inspection.
In the summer of 2000, after the project had been in progress for three consecutive years, officials of the Council of Agriculture arranged a trip for inspectors to evaluate afforestation projects across the nation. Each inspector was supposed to file a report after the trip.
In my report, in addition to summarizing the achievements of such afforestation projects, I pointed out a number of problems concerning the formulation of the government's policy and its implementation procedures. Although I was critical of the fact that such an inspection project was just a formality, I did try to offer practical suggestions. I believe I did a thorough job and fulfilled the promise I made to the government.
Unfortunately, I was so naive that I thought that the authorities concerned would review my report and genuinely study the pros and cons of such a project.
Three years later, based on the report I presented to the government, I published a book and sent a copy to a score of legislators and Control Yuan members, as well as relatives and students. However, none of legislators, whose main job it is to check the government's expenditure on behalf of the people, sent me a reply; only two Control Yuan members phoned me to express their gratitude.
In retrospect, I do feel a measure of regret for giving away so much material which many of the recipients may have put straight into the recycling bin.
I believe that none of the problems have been solved, even if the government agencies responsible for afforestation had been concerned about the examination and evaluation of the afforestation project.
As the afforestation inspectors were not law enforcement officials, they were not in a position to investigate any fraudulent practices.
However, in a project of such magnitude, we can expect that the government would arrange all sorts of examinations, investigations and reviews in the beginning, middle and end of the whole process. Such a complete set of procedures is such a formality that nobody will pay attention to them.
Further, all of the authorities concerned would always claim that each plan is carried out according to certain types of principles, rather than earnestly and conscienciously reviewing all past flawed projects.
In the end, we have only realized that one project is being carried out after another, but we have no idea what these projects will bring about.
This whole situation made me finally realize that when people say scholars are the backbone of society, they must have been hypnotized by some complacent academics or experts.
Whenever I thumb through the books I have published, I get agitated. I do not mind being isolated by the government simply because I have acted willfully. However, I do feel lonely, for I seem to be the only one attempting to address such an issue.
Wu Pei-ying is a professor in the department of agricultural economics at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Daniel Cheng
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