Sun, Nov 09, 2014 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: KMT’s pork-barreling hurts reform

With the nine-in-one elections looming, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration is relying heavily on pork-barrel politics to curry electoral support for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), while at the same time moving down on the agenda items it once touted as important reform proposals.

In September, Ma, who doubles as chairman of the KMT, designated Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) to lead a campaign team of 85 party and Cabinet officials — with the exception of those working for the National Defense, Foreign Affairs and Justice ministries — to stump for KMT candidates. Since then, the estimated expenditure for the projects, laden with pork-barreling ideas, led by Jiang has reached NT$300 billion (US$9.77 billion).

Among them is a promise of NT$15 billion for KMT Keelung mayoral candidate Hsieh Li-kung (謝立功) — hastily nominated after the party’s original candidate, Huang Ching-tai (黃景泰), came under investigation for corruption — and a proposal to extend the planned Taipei Mass Rapid Transport Minsheng-Xizhi line to Keelung, which would cost NT$115.9 billion.

Meanwhile, Greater Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強), waging a tough re-election battle against the Democratic Progressive Party’s Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍), received Jiang’s guarantee of NT$80 billion to fund his proposed projects for the municipality.

Jiang has also exercised authority over the distribution of pork barrels to improve the KMT’s election chances in Pingtung, Penghu, Taitung and Greater Kaohsiung.

While Ma’s administration looks to roll out more pork-barrel projects, with Jiang’s campaign team having scheduled more weekend forays before the elections on Nov. 29 to solicit votes, it has delayed decisions on issues that seem unfavorable to certain voters, even though these measures could promote public wellbeing.

A case in point was Jiang’s recent punt on a proposal to impose water pollution taxes in two stages: First on polluters discharging wastewater in industrial parks — a regulation set to take effect next month — and then on households from 2018.

His hesitation to sign off on the policy forced Environmental Protection Minister Wei Kuo-yen (魏國彥) to scale back his previous position that the policy must be enforced pursuant to a decision made by the legislature in March following a case in which an Advanced Semiconductor Engineering plant polluted the Houjin River (後勁溪) in Greater Kaohsiung with untreated wastewater about a year ago.

Another example is Jiang’s rejection of a proposal the Ministry of Finance made as part of its fiscal reform package that sought to save the government NT$1 billion a year in interest payments by changing pensions for civil servants, and public school teachers and military personnel from monthly to quarterly payments.

The proposed change was rejected out of fear of upsetting these pensioners, who are generally cast as traditional KMT voters.

Pork-barrel politics is a long-standing tradition in Taiwan and its consequences have had a significant bearing on the nation’s development. Politically, this tactic complicates the already unhealthy competition among political parties. Economically, it results in excessive accumulation of debts over time. Socially, short-sighted electoral promises often ignore the long-term effects such activities have on the development of the nation.

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