The popular documentary Beyond Beauty — Taiwan From Above (看見台灣) has stirred up a wave of enthusiasm about environmental conservation. Prosecutors in Changhua County and Greater Kaohsiung have challenged unscrupulous businesses that have laid hidden pipes in their factories for dumping toxic wastewater. These prosecutors are to be admired for uncovering the companies’ immoral deeds and instituting legal proceedings against them, which in some cases, led to arrests of those responsible.
However, the heads of the financial and economics ministries and departments, having failed to oversee such companies and guide them along the straight and narrow, have not stood up and called on delinquent businesses to live up to their social responsibilities by paying compensation and clearing up the pollution they have caused. Instead, they have been so brazen as to put in a good word for the companies involved. Does this negligence have something to do with the resulting corruption and graft?
Hopefully, prosecutors will examine this question as they investigate polluting factories.
Advanced Semiconductor Engineering Inc (ASE) — the company accused of illegal wastewater dumping in Greater Kaohsiung — makes NT$220 billion (US$7.36 billion) in annual revenues and is expected to make nearly NT$10 billion in profit this year. While raking in huge profits, the company has been sneakily dumping toxic wastewater, deceiving environmental protection regulators. People have been shocked to learn that ASE received more than NT$3 billion in tax subsidies over the past four years. The injustice is clear.
Over the past few years, there have been repeated instances of suicides committed by farmers, as they were threatened by land seizures or unable to sell their produce for a reasonable price, left without help.
Another disadvantaged group is the working class in Greater Taipei, whose hard work once allowed them to buy affordable houses or apartments big enough to provide safe and stable accommodation for their families. This was cased by the Urban Renewal Act (都市更新條例), which has been amended no less than eight times, each time making it more favorable to developers. These homeowners could not have imagined that developers would have the ability to define the areas that they want for urban renewal projects using this law, and take advantage of the act’s terms regarding majority consent among residents to throw them out of their homes and forcibly demolish the houses. When comparing the favors handed out to corporations like ASE with the harsh realities faced by farmers and working class people, one has to consider why there is such a huge difference in the treatment of people of different social status.
In 2005, the government amended the Land Tax Act (土地稅法), drastically reducing the land value increment tax. It was this tax cut that triggered the increase in land speculation. It has encouraged business corporations and investors to hoard and speculate on property, with little cost to themselves. Corporations still claim that Taipei property prices of NT$2.5 million per ping (3.31m2) are not very high. In 2009, the government went further by amending the Estate and Gift Tax Act (遺產及贈與稅法), with a big rate cut benefiting capitalists and allowing them to accumulate even more wealth.