Fri, Jul 21, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Legislative culture needs reform

By Chou Ni-an 周倪安

On July 5, the Special Act on the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program (前瞻基礎建設特別條例) passed a third reading in the legislature after a highly problematic review process. Specifically, the legislature abused procedural rules intended to improve the legislative process. This has highlighted how backward the nation’s legislative culture is.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been promoting legislative reform, with one of its key goals being the establishment of a committee-centric review mechanism. This is because, compared with the past, today’s legislation cover a wider range of subjects. As a result, parliaments in developed countries around the world have come to emphasize the function of specialized committees with knowledge in specific areas in the hope of increasing legislative efficiency and quality.

However, following the passage of the act, it has become clear that the ruling and opposition parties did not learn anything from reviewing the five-day workweek bill. The committee in charge failed to do its job of properly examining the infrastructure bill by almost immediately approving it for cross-caucus negotiations following a rushed one-minute review, which only created more problems.

The committee reviewing the act, which includes 15 articles, had a total of seven meetings to review it. Seven meetings is not a small amount of time. Had the parties been willing to sit down and debate their opinions on the bill in a rational manner, they could have allowed the committee to perform its designed function of properly reviewing the bill and won public support.

However, the ruling party appeared to have no interest in defending its policy and convincing its opponents to consider its view, as it only wanted to railroad the bill through the committee using its majority.

On the other hand, the opposition parties made little effort to offer constructive criticism or suggestions, as they spent the majority of their time occupying the speaker’s podium; when they were not fighting for the podium, they were trying to stall the meeting by raising a ruckus, playing the suona or even throwing flour.

As a result, no discussion on the bill was possible during seven days of meetings, by the end of which it was approved without any revision and submitted to cross-caucus negotiations. It was not only a colossal waste of time, but also a blow to the legislature’s image.

Since the committee failed to properly review the bill, Legislative Speaker Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) made the exception of allowing the question-and-answer session — which is typically carried out during committee meetings — to be redone during the cross-caucus negotiations. While that might seem to have made sense, it proved that there is substance to previous complaints that cross-caucus negotiations are being allowed to override committee meetings. This is ironic, considering that the DPP has advocated a more committee-centric legislative approach.

According to Article 11 of the Act Governing the Exercise of Legislative Power (立法院職權行使法), a third reading should be held in the meeting following the second reading, unless a member of the committee has proposed doing the third reading immediately after the second reading, with at least 15 committee members seconding the proposal or signing a petition.

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