When it comes to policy implementation, different departments with overlapping powers often pull in different directions. To make matters worse, central and local funding for cleaning up pollution may be carved up by elected officials and other people with a finger in the pie, with the result that the money does not go where it is really needed or serve its intended purpose.
Take Yunlin County, for example. Hardly any waterway in the whole county, save for a few mountain streams, is free of pollution. The main culprits are the pig farmers who are to be found in almost every town and village. Even though they all receive government subsidies to install sewage treatment equipment, many of them choose to save a few thousand New Taiwan dollars on their electricity bills by secretly laying pipes that carry their pigs’ effluent straight into ditches and streams. This practice causes the stinking sewage to spread far and wide.
Government bureaucrats seem unable to put a stop to this abuse, while elected officials whose foremost concern is getting farmers to vote for them turn a blind eye to the pollution problem. As a result, sewage from pig farms flows all over Yunlin’s picturesque countryside, providing a breeding ground for disease, and the county’s water is off the scale for drinking purposes.
There is no shortage of successful precedents around the world for cleaning up polluted waterways. Japan’s Tokyo Bay, South Korea’s Han River and the River Thames in England have all been given new leases on life, thanks to the joint efforts of governments and ordinary people, and they are all cases from which Taiwan could learn a lesson.
A key factor is the existence of comprehensive laws. Where such laws exist, there should be a single department responsible for implementing them, transcending the interests of parties and factions. Vertical integration, horizontal connections and unification of powers are essential conditions for the authorities concerned to safeguard Taiwan’s sustained development and create a healthy homeland for the public.
It would be a good idea for Hsu to join up with like-minded businesses that could contribute money and other resources to work together for the common good. Government departments, for their part, should keep in touch with Hsu’s association and other non-governmental and not-for-profit organizations to set up a network to monitor, report and prevent pollution in rivers, the sea and local communities.
In this way, Taiwan need not become an island with no sand and no fish, but rather a sustainable and healthy homeland.
Shu Chin-chiang is president of the Foundation of Taiwanese Culture and a former national security consultant.
Translated by Julian Clegg