The series of gas pipeline explosions that rocked Greater Kaohsiung on July 31 and Aug. 1 and how its aftermath has been handled have unmasked the attitudes of Taiwanese officials who represent both the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
As always, both parties seem more interested in finding fault with each other than with finding solutions, despite the severity of this event — 30 people were killed and 310 injured; among the injured, 45 of the 76 who are still hospitalized remain in intensive care units with serious burns.
While the investigation into the pipeline suspected of leaking propene continues, there is no doubt that this pipeline, along with two others that also transport hazardous liquids, should not have been exposed to air in the drainage culvert.
This is one of many issues that should not have been allowed, since the state-owned oil refiner CPC Corp, Taiwan had obtained permission to bury the three industrial pipelines beneath the urban neighborhood in early 1991 from then-Greater Kaohsiung Mayor Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), who was appointed by the KMT regime, as CPC constructed the nation’s No. 5 Naphtha Cracker despite strong opposition from local residents.
Shockingly, since the installation of the pipelines more than 23 years ago in a period that saw the DPP at the helm for 16 years, not a single test has been performed to check their integrity.
None of the officials of the two parties involved, whether directly or indirectly, took the initiative to admit mistakes, tell the truth and assume responsibility until the odds appeared to be against them, such as former deputy Kaohsiung mayor Wu Hong-mo (吳宏謀) and three other high-ranking officials accused of lying about the existence of the culvert and the problematic pipeline owned by LCY Chemical Corp.
The Greater Kaohsiung Government has attempted to excuse itself from the obligation of monitoring effects of pipeline construction and operation for years, while the Executive Yuan has also tried to put the blame on the city government by saying that the pipelines transporting petrochemical products — as opposed to petroleum and natural gas — fall outside of the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ jurisdiction.
Minister of Economic Affairs Chang Chia-juch (張家祝), who is also in charge of the Central Disaster Response Center, did offer to resign, but his 800-character statement revealed that he resigned over a strong grievance with the way opposition parties have treated him and made no mention of the ministry’s long-overlooked responsibility to develop and ensure regulations for safe operation of the nation’s pipeline network.
The case provides the latest testimony to the depth of the partisan divide in Taiwan. Surprisingly, it has grown to the extent that even the results of the disaster — massive casualties, 6km of destroyed roads, utility supplies to about 83,800 people in about 33,000 households affected to different degrees and the fear of more gas pipeline explosions — still failed to bridge the gap and allow both parties to set aside their feud for the greater good.
Political parties in Taiwan seldom compete on a left-right spectrum, but even so, they do not sit down to discuss issues that involve unification-independence disputes either. The relationship is obviously beyond repair when there is more finger-pointing than problem-solving.
The latest weather forecast indicates that Kaohsiung is likely to be battered by more downpours in the next four or five days. While the rain hampers reconstruction and might bring more damage, it will also bring a further test for the political parties.
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