Sat, Jul 30, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Time to stop robbing the poor to feed the wealthy

By Hsu Shih-jung 徐世榮

When farmers took to the streets of Taipei to protest earlier this month, the response from the public was tremendous. However, it was only one year ago that those same farmers staged an overnight protest on Ketagalan Boulevard that seems to have been largely forgotten. A year has passed, but the government continues to act as though nothing is wrong even though land expropriation cases have been just as appalling this year as they were last year.

Why is this happening?

One reason is that the government mistakenly believes land expropriation to be an important way to develop land and improve its fiscal position.

Government finances are in serious jeopardy, but instead of imposing higher taxes on the wealthy to boost revenue, the rich are given tax breaks, tax exemptions and other economic privileges. So where else is the funding for much needed infrastructure projects to be found? The answer is to use land expropriation to prop up land development.

Land-related taxes such as the land value tax and land value increment tax are the main sources of tax income for local governments. In this context, it is hardly surprising that how to collect more tax revenue becomes the focus of much policy debate.

In addition, those in power can utilize land development projects to co-opt local politicians, thereby killing two birds with one stone.

The reason local governments are using every means possible to turn farmland into urban land is that farmland is not taxable and as such brings in no revenue. Article 53 of the Executive Yuan’s Equalization of Land Rights Act (平均地權條例) states that all expansion or renewal of urban planning, or reassignment of farmland or protected zones as land for construction, must be achieved through zone expropriation. This has caused the expropriation of farmland to double.

Zone expropriation allows the government to expropriate large areas of land and subsequently make huge profits by auctioning it off or selling it by tender.

Because government has the final say when it comes to urban planning, many urban planning districts have been continually expanded and more designated areas are being established near industrial and science parks. As a result, urban planning has gotten out of hand as local governments exaggerate population numbers and use falsified data as a pretext to turn farmland into urban land.

At present there is a difference of more than 7 million between fabricated population numbers and the actual population. Although there is still much unused land in industrial and science parks, meeting the needs of these exaggerated figures creates the false impression that construction on this land is necessary.

The government has deliberately established such a distorted mechanism to expropriate land because it can then carry out its own land development agenda and significantly increase revenue intake.

It is most regrettable that the strict regulations and guidelines that should govern land expropriation have been willfully pushed aside, and that the basic property rights and human rights guaranteed by the Constitution have been neglected. As a result, the members of one of society’s most disadvantaged groups — farmers — are being forced to bear the burden of funding government infrastructure construction.

Social justice is turned on its head in a world where the poor are robbed to feed the rich.

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