A move to amend the Act for the Utilization and Transfer of Reserved Mountainous Land (山坡地保育利用條例) may have the best of intentions, but it should be firmly shut down. The last thing this nation needs is an amendment that would make it easier for anyone to access such land and convert it into more concrete — be it for a hotel, a resort or tea shop. Yet, adding more concrete to the landscape is what the measure is really about, whether the proponents want to admit it or not.
The law allows Aborigines to gain ownership of reserved mountainous lands if they first receive permission to rent or farm a piece of land which they then utilize for five consecutive years. Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Jeng Tian-tsair (鄭天財), an Amis, thinks this is wrong because at present the restrictions apply only to Aborigines, so he wants to eliminate the waiting period entirely. That’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Opponents of his proposal say any moves making it easier to gain access to such lands would open the way for more developers and non-Aborigines to take over the land — and they are correct. Just look at what has happened to Alishan and Sun Moon Lake; most of the businesses there are owned and operated by non-Aborigines. While both areas milk Aboriginal culture and heritage to attract tourists, few of the economic benefits are actually reaped by Aboriginal residents.
All too often, government officials — at all levels — pay tribute to Taiwan’s Aboriginal tribes as national assets from a cultural point of view, but do little to protect these assets from assimilation efforts or invasive development, whether it be under the current or former KMT administration or the Democratic Progressive Party.
There are still too many ways for developers to evade restrictions on land use and build in predominantly Aboriginal areas. Just look at the farce that the Meiliwan Resort Village at Shanyuan Bay (杉原灣), Taitung County, has become — it is like a bad science fiction movie: “The development that cannot be killed.”
The developers thumbed their noses at the central government from the very beginning by starting construction before applying for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Even though the project’s construction permit and the EIA have since been ruled invalid in court, the Taitung County Government, which is a partner in the project, has ignored the rulings and allowed construction to continue. The Supreme Administrative Court ruled in January that the beachfront resort was guilty of procedural violations, and that the county government had failed to ask the developer to present evidence to prove that the project would not pollute the ocean — where the coral reefs are already under threat.
Over the past six years, there have been fervent protests by Aborigines, environmental activists and others over the resort, but still the work continues. What will it take to halt this project? It is obvious that the county government, having a vested interest, cannot be relied upon to do its job, and yet the central government appears oblivious.
While the fall-back rationale is that development will boost tourism and provide employment opportunities, the truth is that Aboriginal culture and traditions will be trampled on and the wealth will remain in non-Aboriginal hands.