Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) has finally stepped up and apologized for the Maokong Gondola debacle, saying he would accept full responsibility. The failing support pillar will be moved back and rebuilt and the government officials involved will be reported to the Control Yuan for investigation, since a probe into government ethics conducted by the Taipei City Government claimed that administrative lapses occurred during the project’s planning, construction and final inspection stages.
Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) continues to insist that building the Maokong Gondola had been the right decision, as it creates business opportunities by potentially attracting more than 5 million tourists per year. Wang also said the city government’s report showed that there was a legal basis for not requiring an environmental impact assessment, a construction license and other miscellaneous licenses, and that the report showed there had been no oversights or corruption.
Perhaps the comments of Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) Minister Stephen Shen (沈世宏), who was director of the Taipei Bureau of Environmental Protection when President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was Taipei mayor, may help to provide us with a fuller picture of these explanations, which could be viewed as a battle between the former and current Taipei City governments. During a legislative interpellation session, Shen said that although environmental impact assessments were now required before cable car systems could be built, this had not been a requirement for the Maokong project because Taiwan at the time lacked experience in gondola development. He added that although this may seem wrong in hindsight, it was legal when construction began.
Put simply, Hau was apologizing for the mistakes made in building the Maokong Gondola, while Wang highlighted its legality. When asked about the issue of Ma’s responsibility, as the construction took place during his tenure as mayor, Hau said that he was unable to answer on Ma’s behalf. While it is difficult to determine who is responsible for “wrongs” that were “legal,” the public really needs to think hard about a leader who does things that might be “legal” although they are “wrong.”
First, the Maokong Gondola debacle has taught us that things that are legal can still be wrong. This is probably the most important lesson we can learn from the situation.
Second, legality is only a minimal requirement for government policy. It is even more crucial that policies do not cause environmental damage or threaten people’s safety and property, and that they benefit the public. The collapsed slopes and landslides caused by the faulty support pillar have left local residents extremely worried. Real estate prices in the area are plummeting and the promised business opportunities have all but vanished.
Hau, who originally said Ma did not make any administrative errors and should not be held responsible, is now saying that he cannot speak on Ma’s behalf.
Ma’s spokesperson still talks about 5 million tourists per year and cites a comment on a certain page of an assessment report conducted by the four major engineering associations in Taiwan that states the support pillar does not suffer from any inclination, displacement or subsidence, in addition to constantly reminding us that the initial Maokong Gondola plans were all legal. Is this really right?
But it was those supposedly “legal” policies that caused the “wrongs” we now have to live with. Even a perfect policy can end in tragedy, not to mention policies that are merely concerned with being “legal.” What is the point of having a leader who does everything “legally” but still keeps making mistakes?
Ko Tsi-jin is a magazine staff writer.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON
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