Sun, Jul 20, 2014 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: The big white elephant in the room

Jhongsing New Village (中興新村), an oasis of green in the foothills of Hushan (虎山) in Nantou County, was previously home to the Taiwan Provincial Government. However, since most of the provincial government’s functions were streamlined after the 1997 constitutional amendments, various proposals have been forwarded to put the 200-hectare site to better use.

Among the most noteworthy proposals are one by the former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, which proposed turning the site into a hub for international non-governmental organizations, and another by the current Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government to transform it into a cultural innovation and advanced research park.

However, none of the proposals have come to fruition.

In fact, most people have forgotten about the existence of the provincial government — that is, until recently, when disgraced former foreign affairs official Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英) was assigned to a post there.

Kuo, former secretary of the now defunct Government Information Office in Toronto, Canada, was dismissed from office in 2009 when he was found to have made disparaging comments about ethnic Taiwanese. In February this year, two weeks shy of his 65th birthday, Kuo was appointed foreign affairs secretary at the provincial government, with a monthly salary of NT$70,000 (US$2,333). That gave him just enough time to fulfill service requirements to be able to retire with a lifelong pension of NT$60,000 a month.

The public outrage over Kuo’s appointment has also refocused attention on this dysfunctional public institution.

Since the constitutional changes, the Taiwan Provincial Government has effectively become a nominal institution, with its duties and powers largely transferred to central government agencies under the Executive Yuan. However, the annual budget earmarked for this institution, along with the Taiwan Provincial Consultative Council (previously the Taiwan Provincial Assembly), remains as high as NT$233.6 million. About 70 percent of the budget is used to pay the governor, 21 members of the consultative council and about 90 staff who seldom do a lick of work.

The 1997 constitutional amendments also streamlined the nation’s Fujian Provincial Government, transferring most of its authority to two of its administrative districts, the Kinmen County Government and Lienchiang County Government, commonly known as Matsu, while an annual budget of NT$110 million is allocated for the operation of the Fujian Provincial Government.

The Taiwan Provincial Government was made redundant after the nation’s electoral districts were altered to represent only people living in Taiwan — and not China — and direct presidential elections began in the 1990s. The provincial government was not terminated outright at that time, but was streamlined mainly to allay apprehension among pro-unification groups that negating Taiwan’s status as a province was a move to promote Taiwanese independence.

Since then, efforts to scrap the institution have become even harder, especially after the 2005 constitutional amendments. The changes set an extremely high threshold for constitutional revisions: approval from three-quarters of lawmakers and at least 50 percent of the whole electorate. Moreover, concern that dismantling the Taiwan Provincial Government would be tantamount to moving toward Taiwanese independence would certainly resurface and complicate what should be a simple matter.

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