On June 29, Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) announced a plan to reform local government that conflated the issues of regional planning and redrawing of administrative boundaries while failing to address tiers of local government. The plan’s proposal for two provinces, six special municipalities and seven districts (or counties) will not be beneficial for rezoning purposes for the following reasons.
First, the continuing distinction between Taiwan Province and Fujian Province means that Kinmen and Lienchiang (Matsu) counties cannot be fully integrated with Taiwan proper and will remain outlying islands in administrative terms. The Cabinet’s plan to instead create a Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu zone is impractical for all this will do is lump three disadvantaged island counties together. The three island groups are far from each other, with jurisdictions at separate ends of the Taiwan Strait, and share no direct transportation or economic links. How can they be meaningfully integrated into a single region?
Second, the division into seven districts is too fragmentary, while establishing six special municipalities will exacerbate imbalances in regional development and retard regional integration.
During the Japanese era, Taihoku Prefecture was made up of Taipei City and County, Ilan County and Keelung, but the recently proposed upgrades will only affect Taipei City and County and Keelung. Hsinchu City and County, Taoyuan County and Miaoli County were all part of Shinchiku Prefecture, but the proposed upgrade will only see Taoyuan County upgraded to a municipality.
Taichu Prefecture used to include Taichung City and County, Changhua County and Nantou County; the proposed merger between Taichung City and County into a special municipality leaves the other areas out. Similarly, Tainan Prefecture included Tainan City and County, Chiayi City and County and Yunlin County, but Tainan City and County are the only beneficiaries in the new plan. Finally, Takao Prefecture included Kaohsiung City and County and Pingtung County but the current proposal will see Pingtung County left out.
Third, there are differing development issues for urban and rural portions of upgraded districts. Applying the standards of Taipei City and Kaohsiung City to upgraded rural and urban townships will ignore special governance needs of remote rural areas. Newly arrived civil servants may not understand problems that can only be solved through exercising local autonomy and resident participation. Looser regulations on autonomous organizations would be necessary to deal with this.
The system of special municipalities and provinces used when the Nationalists governed China must be scrapped. Taiwan should be divided into four provinces — eastern, northern, central and southern. Funding should be evenly distributed between them and no distinction made between municipality and county.
The three western provinces should have the capitals Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung respectively. Matsu, Kinmen and Penghu, meanwhile, should be incorporated into the northern, central and southern areas based on geographical, transportation and economic factors. Planning for these areas would then be integrated with Taiwan proper.
The best way to implement local autonomy would be to allow each city and county to decide which level of autonomy their townships should have according to degree of urbanization.