Fires keep breaking out at Formosa Plastics Corp’s (FPC) sixth naphtha cracker complex in Yunlin County’s Mailiao (麥寮) Township, provoking angry condemnations from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Yunlin County Government, as well as protests by people who live near the plant.
In theory, everyone — central government, local government and the public — should be speaking with one voice, but in fact there have been clashes between local government — especially the Yunlin County Government — and the central government. For example, the Environmental Protection Administration criticizes the county government each and every time, while the county keeps complaining that the central government has not provided enough compensation, subsidies and help.
Clearly this kind of interaction does not solve any problems. It has not stopped accidents from happening at the FPC cracker. This may be because the plant lacks an impartial and objective mechanism for monitoring and improvement, or because it has never provided a channel for involvement in monitoring industrial safety. A possible reason is that in the course of current conflicts between central and local government, not much weight has been given to the problem of the naphtha cracker’s inadequate social mechanism for monitoring industrial safety, or else the focus has been blurred. Consequently, each time there is an industrial accident at the sixth naphtha cracker, the plant easily escapes serious censure without the safety problems ever being resolved. So, how can an objective and impartial mechanism for industrial safety monitoring be set up?
The central government is too far away from the plant for it to effectively play a monitoring role and, in any case, its function is to establish policies. That is not to say that it does not have a duty to monitor the formation of policy. The central government should also actively assist and monitor the establishment of impartial and objective monitoring mechanisms at the local level. If not, there will unavoidably be suspicions that the central government is siding with the plant’s management.
Besides, the minister of economic affairs has said: “If there’s no industrial safety, then there won’t be any petrochemical industry.”
A practical way to turn those words into action would be for the ministry to take on the task of helping to establish a mechanism for monitoring industrial safety at the plant. If it did that, the ministry would be seen as serving the public.
The practical way to set up and run a public mechanism for monitoring industrial safety at the sixth naphtha cracker would be to let local government do it — the governments of Yunlin County and nearby townships. Industrial safety monitoring groups could even be set up in villages and boroughs, preferably with the participation of academics and experts. These monitoring groups could inspect the plant’s industrial safety rules and procedures at fixed periods, or make random spot checks. They should receive assistance and be fully authorized by local government, including the county government and township offices, and indeed the central government, to enable them to monitor the plant effectively.
After all, the sixth naphtha cracker is a major project that has been strongly promoted by the central government in the past.