Thu, May 18, 2017 - Page 8 News List

The Liberty Times Editorial: Time to end the legislative farce

Legislators have for several days been fighting in the legislature over the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program.

In a bid to emphasize their opposition to the plan, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators have resorted to disrupting the procedures using a variety of props including sirens, horns, the Bible and the Diamond Sutra.

Matters took on ridiculous proportions on Thursday last week as some legislators poured water and flour over their colleagues in the plenary assembly. These are not the kind of activities that might take place in other democracies, such as “filibustering” in the US; it is a Taiwanese phenomenon that includes opposition lawmakers getting into physical altercations and occupying the speaker’s podium in order to paralyze the legislative agenda.

The focal point of the legislative dispute is not the draft Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program Special Act, which consists of just 11 articles, but the program itself.

The Cabinet plans to spend NT$882 billion (US$29.26 billion) over eight years on developing renewable energy sources, railway transportation and digital and water infrastructure and minimizing developmental gaps between urban and rural areas.

The government is planning to use this program to boost public investment, build the infrastructure that Taiwan needs over the coming 30 years, promote local development, correct regional imbalances and add momentum to economic growth.

Major government-led construction projects and investment programs such as these are frequently seen in other nations, and even US President Donald Trump has announced a similar plan. Public investment is one link in an active fiscal policy and as monetary policies such as quantitative easing and low interest rates are having less and less of an impact on the economy, many nations are moving in this direction.

The 10 Major Infrastructure Projects initiated by then-president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) are the best-known example of such a program in Taiwan, but they were followed by the 1991 to 1997 Six-year National Construction Plan and several other major public construction programs — although effectiveness varied between programs.

The north-to-south highways, high-speed railway and Taipei Metro systems appear to have had their intended effects, but even Chiang could be criticized for promoting large, inappropriate, grandiose and badly planned programs. Among other factors, the Six-year National Construction Plan is often seen as responsible for Taiwan’s fiscal deficit.

Governments are generally less effective at running businesses and the same applies to infrastructure construction. The government is there to serve the public and it does not have the necessary investment or business expertise.

As the government spends taxpayers’ money, it is subject to many legal restrictions and as a result, public construction projects are often expensive to maintain and underused.

On Sunday, China opened a two-day forum on its “One Belt, One Road” initiative that was attended by heads of state and leaders from 28 nations. To the Chinese government, the forum represented a great diplomatic success.

However, a commentary in the Financial Times said European businesses worried that inequality in trade and investment, and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) use of the power of the Chinese government and state businesses in promoting the project could turn this big transnational infrastructure program into a trap that would waste resources and make it difficult for the nations involved to pull out should they want to do so.

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