Thu, Aug 25, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Taipei is hogging nation’s resources

By Huang Yu-lin 黃玉霖

A serious imbalance in national development is ripping society apart. In order to balance national development and stabilize society, many insightful legislators have suggested moving the nation’s capital, but the Cabinet has repeatedly rejected this suggestion, coming up with a series of bureaucratic excuses, saying it would be administratively complicated and that a set of complimentary measures would be needed.

Last week, the Cabinet took an even more bureaucratic stance, saying the timing was not right and that a national consensus must be established before initiating any research into the logistics of a move. In addition, just as a legislative nominee from the Democratic Progressive Party in Greater Taichung expressed dissatisfaction with the Cabinet’s response and launched a signature campaign to have the legislature moved to ease some of the pressure on the capital, media outlets in Taipei reported that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the leaders of the nation’s five branches of government had reached a strong consensus on the relocation of the legislature to an area in central Taipei currently occupied by the air force.

If this is true, how could it be acceptable to legislators from Greater Kaohsiung, Greater Tainan, Greater Taichung and other areas? Why do Ma and the Cabinet feel they can ignore the demands of legislators from lesser-developed areas?

Ma’s political career took off during his time as Taipei mayor and he likes using Taipei as a basis for national policymaking decisions. To use the allocation of the MRT budget as an example, between 1987 and 2009 the central government allocated a total of NT$455.1 billion (US$15.7 million) in subsidies for MRT systems nationwide. Of this, Taipei received NT$338.4 billion, then-Kaohsiung City NT$113.1 billion, then-Taipei County NT$2.04 billion and then-Taichung City NT$1.46 billion, while then-Tainan City received nothing.

Taipei, with 11.26 percent of the national population, received 74.36 percent of the subsidies for MRT funding. This enabled the construction of the MRT network and sent the cost of property skyrocketing. However, since taking office, the Ma administration has blocked all plans for MRT and light-rail systems in areas outside Taipei and New Taipei City.

The government also quotes Ma’s comments that cities and counties must first develop their bus systems so that the rates of public transportation use increase, before the government will consider building MRT systems.

However, I wonder what would have happened if the central government had divided Taipei’s MRT funding in half and given the other half to Greater Tainan or Greater Taichung. Would the rate of public transportation use in those municipalities still be as low?

The Ma administration’s reliance on the public transportation usage rates as the primary standard to determine MRT system funding unfairly benefits Taipei by giving it more MRT subsidies because it has the highest rate of public transportation use.

This kind of decisionmaking that focuses solely on Taipei is alarming because it means that other areas are less developed than Taipei, not because the residents of these areas are less cultured or hardworking, but because of the unfair distribution of national resources.

Many nations have established or moved their capitals to lesser-developed areas to promote balanced regional development. For example, Brazil moved its capital from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia to spur development inland, while New Zealand moved its capital from Auckland to Wellington to be closer to the prosperous South Island.

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