Across Taiwan, the government is involved in land speculation in an attempt to save the economy. The combined hidden debt of central and local governments has reached about NT$15 trillion (US$513 billion), an amount that will take more than 60 years to pay back.
Despite this, the government is continuing to add to the debt by initiating large public construction projects on a build-operate-transfer basis. Together, the government and private enterprises have invested more than NT$33 trillion in such projects, with the result that huge amounts of capital have been pouring into the real estate market.
This is an updated version of traditional developmentalism, that is focused on speculation.Encouraged by their superiors, as well as local government leaders, the authorities in charge of the various industries targeted by the central government, such as the National Science Council and the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, have proposed many such development projects.
The Cabinet has then categorized these projects as “major national construction projects” and demanded that the agencies in charge implement them. This kind of construction project used to be a guarantor of public benefit, but they are now being seriously undermined by underestimating of project costs and exaggeration of their benefits.
For example, the occupancy rate at the Central Taiwan Science Park is a mere 51 percent and its administration has debts amounting to about NT$136.3 billion. Meanwhile, 1,246 hectares of land at the Changhua Coastal Industrial Park remain unused.
Despite this, those in charge of the evaluation of the fourth-stage development project for the Central Taiwan Science Park remain markedly upbeat.
Local governments are in control of land utilization plans, such as urban and zonal planning. Using development permits for the preparation, changes to, expansion and zoning of these urban plans, local governments are able to convert large areas of farmland and low-usage land into land for construction.
However, the supply of land for urban planning significantly exceeds demand. A report from the Control Yuan clearly states that there is a gap of 6.78 million people between the population quoted as being involved in local governments’ urban planning and the actual population of the involved areas.
According to the Control Yuan, this makes it clear that the population figures quoted in the plans are either false or inflated. Yet, local government continues to exaggerate the numbers in order to be able to redesignate land use.
As the interests of central and local governments and businesses collide, the authorities use their development project plans and land usage plans to achieve their goals. Most of the land involved in both development projects and land use planning is private.
For the sake of land speculation, the government does not hesitate to resort to regular and zonal expropriation, the redesignation of public land and urban renewal, all of which are potential violations of human rights.
As a result of this behavior, many farmers and other citizens have been deprived of land that has belonged to their families for generations, forcing them to leave their beloved homes.
Today, large construction projects mean massive land speculation and forced relocations.
As a result, Taiwan is deteriorating rapidly.
Hsu Shih-jung is a professor in the Department of Land Economics at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Eddy Chang