Fri, Mar 13, 2015 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Kaohsiung primed for pipeline battle

The Kaohsiung City Government is planning to pass an ordinance on the management of the city’s existing industrial pipelines that would require that companies laying pipelines in the city move their headquarters there. This is a direct challenge to the central government and the companies involved in last year’s deadly pipeline explosions. Increasing tensions over the decision are likely to follow.

The city government’s anger has grown over decades: As the center for Taiwan’s petrochemical industry, Kaohsiung has long suffered from air and water pollution caused by the industry and the safety threat posed by underground pipelines.

However, while their plants are in Kaohsiung, the companies’ headquarters are in Taipei. This means that most of the tax revenue goes to Taipei. As Kaohsiung has experienced a long period of financial difficulty, this is something its residents find hard to swallow.

The city has repeatedly asked the central government for compensation, but there has been little response. Last year’s explosions once again highlighted the issue, giving the city government an impetus to engineer a showdown with the petrochemical industry and central government.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs initiated talks on the development of the petrochemical industry and the pipelines, but progress has been slow. As far as the companies are concerned, shifting their headquarters to Kaohsiung is not only a matter of relocating offices, it also involves moving staff, and many of the companies have little interest in complying.

The ministry says the city’s proposal will affect the companies’ property and business rights, and violates the “principle of inappropriate connections,” according to which government departments should only consider factors related to the matter at hand and disregard factors unrelated to the intended effect of their exercise of power.

The ministry will submit the city’s plan to the Cabinet for reference and if the Cabinet decides that the decision was unconstitutional, it could, based on Article 30 of the Local Government Act (地方制度法), inform the Kaohsiung City Government in writing that the city’s decision has been annulled. If that were to happen, the city could ask the Judicial Yuan for an interpretation.

The ministry has criticized the city’s demand that the owners of existing pipelines must move their headquarters to Kaohsiung before the end of next year to be allowed to continue to use those pipelines, and that the maintenance of the pipelines is the operational responsibility of these companies, even though the city says that this has nothing to do with the location of corporate headquarters.

By trying to force companies to relocate to

Kaohsiung, the city is violating the concept of inappropriate connections in administrative law and exerting a great deal of influence over the companies’ use of property and their overall economic development, which could be a violation of the constitutional protection of property and business rights, the ministry said.

Both Kaohsiung and the ministry are waving law books around as if preparing for a legal battle, but the dispute may not go that far. It is more likely that the city government is trying to use the threat to bring about peace. By raising the issue’s visibility, it is forcing the central government and the industry back to the negotiating table.

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