The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucuses on Thursday actually agreed on something: to cut the extraordinary legislative session to six days instead of a three-week schedule that would have occupied the legislature almost until the start of the Lunar New Year holiday — and to discuss only general budget bills and two draft amendments.
Congratulations are not in order.
While any time the two parties are able to find common ground is usually cause for at least a small hurrah, neither should be commended in this case.
Instead, the caucuses should be asked, not for the first time by this newspaper and many others, and probably not for the last, why another extraordinary session was called in the first place.
These extraordinary, “special” or “provisional” sessions have become so common that the nomenclature appears little more than a joke. Even worse have been the years where not just one, but two special sessions have been held back-to-back.
That the current special session was called to pass the general budget for next year — and the KMT had, according to caucus convener Sufin Siluko (廖國棟), prepared almost 4,000 motions to slash or freeze the budget — shows that today’s legislators are just as obstructionist as their predecessors.
On Friday last week, Sufin said that the thousands of motions would have to be put to the vote and drag out the meeting, which is what his caucus wanted. On Thursday, he appeared more amenable, saying that a consensus on the shorter session and its agenda was reached because all parties “respected and took into account each other’s opinions.”
Hogwash. If that were true, there would be no need for this special session, or any other, and lawmakers would be able to review and pass the annual general budget and other crucial bills during the two sessions per year regulated by the Constitution.
Instead, legislators appear more concerned with holding news conferences and grandstanding during the regular sessions than they are with serving the public that elected them.
During the last not-so-extraordinary session held in July last year, the KMT submitted more than 1,400 proposals aimed at the budget bills for state-run enterprises, and the DPP responded by passing a motion changing the session into a marathon voting meeting that would have lasted more than 80 hours.
It took the collapse of a female legislative staffer about 24 hours into that marathon to bring the two parties to their senses.
Five years ago the Chinese-language The Journalist magazine estimated that one extra day of a legislative session cost NT$10.25 million (US$320,383 at the current exchange rate). It is surely much more now. Why should taxpayers have to foot such a bill to reward lawmakers’ incompetence and foot-dragging?
However, it is not just the reliance on extraordinary sessions or their costs that are a problem. There are also the all-too-common end-of-regular-session cram efforts to pass proposals and amendments, and the resulting lack of oversight, as well as the passage of bills that are so shoddily drafted in the first place that the government is left red-faced trying to deal with the discrepancies.
One prime example is that despite all the hearings, debates and protests over how to amend the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) to bring about a five-day workweek, the government and the private sector were left scrambling at the end of last month to cope with the sudden implementation of portions of the newly amended law.
While the Executive Yuan was left holding the bag for officials — not realizing that some articles had been written to take effect as soon as the legislation was signed into law — legislators should not escape some of the blame for the fiasco.
Voters do not want or need “special” legislative sessions. They just want lawmakers who can do their jobs, well-designed legislation and a government that does not waste taxpayers’ money. Those should not be extraordinary requests.
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