Wed, Jan 02, 2019 - Page 8 News List

The myth of special municipalities

By Lee Min-yung 李敏勇

Even compared with the five other special municipalities under direct Executive Yuan governance, the advantages enjoyed by Taipei are exceptional. Unlike New Taipei City — which was created by elevating the former Taipei County to special municipality level — and Taoyuan, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung, which were all created by combining the cities with the counties, Taipei is all urban, without rural areas.

New Taipei City envelops both Taipei and provincial-level Keelung, making it something of an administrative wonder.

The population of Taipei is not the biggest of the Cabinet-governed cities, nor is it the largest in terms of area, but it is still the nation’s capital, with the largest budget and the best infrastructure.

While Taipei is more like one of Tokyo’s districts, such as well-known Ginza, Shinjuku and the other 21 districts. New Taipei City is like the cities within Tokyo, such as Hachioji, Narita and Tama, and the other 23 cities.

Taipei and New Taipei City were made into two Cabinet-governed cities as a result of political infighting and competition.

Tokyo’s districts and cities have local autonomy, unlike the townships that used to exist in what is now Taiwan’s special municipalities that have been converted to districts: They have no autonomy and district administrators are appointed by the government.

The populations of some of the districts in New Taipei City are bigger than some counties or provincial-level cities, so there seems to be a certain level of political backsliding or even disorder.

It is also a bit odd that there would still be such a thing as a provincial-level city, as the provincial government has been abolished.

The elevation to special municipality was mainly the result of a grab for funds allocated by the central government. If local government leaders are a bit like old feudal lords, then this is even more true of special municipality mayors.

Narrow departmentalism overrides concerns for regional balance, and counties and cities with large populations made a grab for money without any concern for the other counties and cities that were unable to get an administrative upgrade.

However, what has happened to the remote areas of these counties after their elevation and after they got their hands on all that money and power? Does any other nation have cities with such large remote areas?

Disputes over national identity have become even more obvious within parties at the national and local levels, as was made abundantly clear in November’s nine-in-one elections.

Taipei has been called the “Kingdom of the Heavenly Dragon” — because of its long-standing image as a Chinese city — and “Chinese Taipei,” and because its status as the nation’s capital has meant that its infrastructure is prioritized — the MRT system is a good example — its mayors have looked down on the rest of Taiwan, although its development has not much to do with their contributions.

Other special municipalities do not build MRT systems or other facilities because they have to borrow money and will end up losing money. It is not strange that there is a backlash against the central government.

Balanced regional development is good for all Taiwanese, but politicians ruled by narrow departmentalism often seem to prey on local and class divisions.

There are too many people who think too highly of themselves and lack any concept of national unity and community. When the local government heads that reigned victorious in the elections took up their positions late last month, one of the new mayors put on quite a show. Before even knowing what it means to run a big city, these new government heads were already competing with each other.

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