Wed, Oct 31, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Communicate to resolve protests

By Du Yu 杜宇

Taiwan’s economy has sunk into recession and unemployment continues to rise. People’s lives are getting harder, and polls show that fewer people than ever are satisfied with the government’s performance.

Faced with such a high level of popular resentment, government officials have failed to thoroughly reflect on their own ability to decide and implement policies, and sometimes even go so far as to shift the blame onto others.

They accuse environmental groups and residents of areas where there are land disputes of protesting irrationally and obstructing construction projects such as the fourth-phase expansion of the Central Taiwan Science Park and Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co’s proposed refinery and petrochemical complex.

One official from the Cabinet-level National Science Council arrogantly remarked that if judges are so clever, then in future the choice of location for science parks and industrial zones may as well be submitted directly to the court for approval.

When drawing up construction projects such as these, bureaucrats would do better to ask themselves whether the government has communicated sufficiently with local residents, and whether it has given due respect and consideration to their right to work and support their families. They will surely find the answer to be in the negative.

Over the years, the government has made repeated unilateral decisions to incorporate large tracts of farmland into planned industrial and commercial zones, science parks and other development projects. They always claim that this will promote local economic prosperity by providing more job opportunities and other benefits.

When farmland is going to be used for other purposes, it has to be legally changed from one land-use category to another. When the authorities have done this, their next step is to expropriate the land, forcing farmers to sell it at a low price.

When the Taipei High Administrative Court revoked the permit for the Central Taiwan Science Park’s fourth-phase development project in Changhua County’s Erlin Township (二林), it reasoned that the existing science park still had plenty of land lying vacant. In view of this, the court found the science park’s plan to borrow NT$52 billion (US$1.8 billion) to purchase arable land and expand the park a serious waste of the nation’s land.

Such practices have eaten away big areas of fertile farmland. It is no wonder that farmers get so upset when agricultural officials tell them that they might as well hand over their land now that they are getting old.

As the government pursues a policy of developing tourism, many beautiful forests, beaches and seaside areas that were originally public assets have been privatized and turned into hotels, inns and holiday villages built by well-connected corporations. The ongoing case of the beachfront Miramar Resort Village (美麗灣渡假村) in Taitung County is a well-known example.

When people are maliciously deprived of their means of survival and environmental rights in this way, government departments rarely step in to uphold justice. On the contrary, they often intervene on behalf of developers. Consequently, popular resentment is seething and protests continue.

Another thing about the government that makes people angry is that various departments each go about their own business, and there is little coordination and integration between them. This leads to poor policy implementation and often leaves the public with nowhere to go for help.

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