Wed, Dec 29, 2010 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Chaos will define 2011 in Taiwan

This time every year the press decide on one word that best represents the previous 12 months. They have yet to come up with one for this year, but here is one for the coming year: chaos.

Taiwan now consists of five special municipalities and 17 counties, with 60 percent of the population living within the former. The implications for how finances are to be divvied up are horrendous. The newly-elected mayors of these municipalities inherit huge debts, and to fulfill campaign promises they are going to need to go cap in hand to the central government for cash, personnel and other resources. The 17 counties will be allocated a smaller portion of the pie and will see their subsidies fall. The five municipalities already exist, but the legislation concerning the allocation of finances, namely the Act Governing the Allocation of Government Revenues and Expenditures (財政收支劃分法) and the Public Debt Act (公債法), are held up in the legislature, waiting for amendments. This means a worsening of the disparity between urban and rural areas, and between rich and poor.

The mayors of the municipalities all have mandates of a million or so votes, second only to the president, so they don’t have to pay much mind to the premier, who lacks any such mandate. They also have more resources and personnel under them than government ministers, and there is going to be little political interaction between the national Cabinet and the Cabinets of each municipality.

With the exception of Taipei, there are going to be huge administrative challenges in the municipalities: the name changes, the reorganization of local districts and government offices, and job restructuring. Every new official position created will affect thousands of public servants and families. People will need to find out where the new government offices are for public services. Questions such as how resources are going to be fairly allocated to places like Banciao (板橋), where the population is 500,000, and Wulai (烏來) or Pingsi (平溪), where the population is measured in the thousands, remain unanswered. The Ministry of the Interior has yet to approve the proposed English name for what was previously Taipei County. The mayors are going to find everything up in the air when they turn up for work on their first day. It’s going to be an administrative nightmare.

The new mayors are going to have more responsibilities than before. They will all have their own support staff and teams of advisers, and will need them as they address how to make their cities more international, how to interact with other cities and how to promote their creative industries. They will have to devise their own models for attracting business and these will naturally involve cross-strait relations. If the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) charges ahead in this regard, they will leave behind those municipalities with mayors affiliated with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). This will lead to rivalry between the municipalities, and, if the central government fails to get the balance right, it will find itself competing on cross-strait policy with the municipalities.

There is also going to be uncertainty for the 17 less well-resourced counties. Are Hsinchu, Miaoli and Taoyuan to merge and become upgraded? How about Hualien and Taitung? Will Keelung become a part of New Taipei City (新北市, the proposed English name of the upgraded Taipei County)? Then there is the question of whether the adjacent municipalities of Taipei and New Taipei City will eventually be further consolidated into a Greater Taipei. Unfortunately, nobody is being very forthcoming on these things.

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