The allegations that former Taoyuan County deputy commissioner Yeh Shih-wen (葉世文) solicited bribes from the Farglory Group, which was seeking to win a bid to build a housing project in the county’s Bade City (八德), has led to many detentions, and there have been reports that the scandal will grow to involve a similar affordable housing development project at the A7 Station of the Mass Rapid Transit line to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.
Yeh previously served as head of the Ministry of the Interior’s Construction and Planning Agency, where he was in charge of urban, regional and national park planning at the national level. Although the Department of Land Administration is in charge of land expropriation, it has conducted only nominal investigations out of respect for the decisions of the Construction and Planning Agency. So the agency could be said to be in control of the entire national land planning system.
It is a serious problem that a former agency head is alleged to have been involved in bribery. This is not merely a matter of individual morality, but rather a structural problem involving the national land planning system as a whole. It therefore becomes necessary to ask how the system could allow someone to act in the way Yeh allegedly did.
Take the A7 Station housing development as an example. This project could only be put up for tender after both the urban planning and land expropriation plans were passed. This implies that the problems do not lie just in the final stage of approval, but in throughout the process.
Urban planning and land expropriation should be aimed at meeting the public interest, which raises such questions as what is meant by the public interest and who should decide what it means and how to achieve it?
At present, these things are decided by a variety of committees made up of bureaucrats, academics and other experts. The interior ministry’s Urban Planning Commission, for example, has 27 members, 13 of whom are government representatives and the rest are academics, experts and those with a passion for the public interest. On the surface, it looks as though government representatives are not the majority, but in practice, they are.
According to the Organizational Regulation of Urban Planning Committees at Different Levels (各級都市計畫委員會組織規程), when representatives from government agencies cannot attend a meeting, they may send representatives who are allowed to speak and participate in voting. However, other committee members do not enjoy this privilege and must attend meetings in person. Given that academics and experts will not always be able to attend every meeting, government representatives still constitute a majority and as such, they gain full control of the commission.
Urban planning projects are proposed by the central or local governments, and then reviewed by bureaucrats. How can this be in line with the most basic principles for eliminating conflicts of interest from the administrative procedure?
Furthermore, academics and experts are employed by government leaders. Now, would a government leader choose an academic such as myself to be on a committee? No. Many committee members are employed for a long time, with their terms often extended or by joining other committees. For example, they may move onto a district committee, or an environmental impact assessment committee. There are also many committee members who go back and forth between the central and local governments. When their term is up on a committee in Taipei or New Taipei City, they join a central government committee.