Therefore, familiar faces are often seen in these committees, faces who often become officials themselves and who may even end up being nominated for a position in the Control or the Examination yuans.
What we really have to ask is whether such a committee mechanism is capable of serving the public interest. Is it this kind of mechanism that made Yeh so greedy? Also, if administrative officials have the same stance on issues as construction conglomerates, how can the rights of the public be protected?
Finally, one must also ask why there are so many self-help and protest groups who feel they must take their protests to the streets.
Land is a commodity that lends itself to monopolization. It involves massive interests that can be used to create political power. Therefore, more than half of all local political elites are involved in construction and other land-related industries, and as a result, local development is controlled by construction conglomerates and local factions that see land as a hugely profitable speculative tool.
Government leaders, bureaucrats, local factions, construction conglomerates and committees made up of academics and experts essentially form an alliance for speculating on land development. They use urban planning and land expropriation to carry out enclosure of land, co-opt factions and forge local support using money and connections — a practice known as bangzhuang (綁樁) — while also taking political donations. These factors have completely changed the nature of Taiwan’s urban planning.
Yeh’s alleged bribery is a serious problem for the entire land planning system. The mechanism for ruling through committee that was designed during the authoritarian era is no longer suitable. It is now used to cover up the government and business interests, as well as those of local factions, while sacrificing the public’s basic human rights as guaranteed in the Constitution.
It is time to establish mechanisms that will allow citizens to govern national land use that reflects the times we live in.
Hsu Shih-jung is a professor in the Department of Land Economics at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Drew Cameron