Stimulus just more land grabbing

By Hsu Shih-jung 徐世榮  / 

Sat, Jun 08, 2013 - Page 8

As it always does when it wants to boost a sluggish economy, the Cabinet recently proposed several short-term economic stimulus measures.

This should be something to celebrate, but, looking back at many similar government measures in the past, it is hard to be optimistic. It is likely many plots of land and houses listed for national construction projects will be expropriated, thus forcing residents to move out.

Many of the economic stimulus plans in the past were in essence land development projects, with the central or local government drawing up plans for local development, and then rezoning the land in the surrounding areas. This is how large tracts of farmland were redesignated for housing or commercial use, causing land prices to soar.

Through this method, speculative real-estate groups, backed by large corporations, make huge inappropriate profits, while the government uses it to buy off local politicians and also make a profit.

Is all this public land? No. The vast majority of it is private.

The government is taking advantage of how many farming areas have become impoverished and underdeveloped because of an aging society.

Instead of helping elderly farmers, it hits them when they are down by using expropriation or rezoning to force them to leave their farms.

The public sees and hears of so many major national construction projects, but how many of them are carried out?

Is there a real need for all this land to be expropriated? Do these projects stick to the original plans?

If they do not, does it mean the majority of these local development plans are fake and their only goal is to expropriate land and deprive people of their property?

On May 9, the Control Yuan reprimanded the Ministry of the Interior for its expropriation policies. According to the Control Yuan’s investigation of all land expropriation projects carried out by the government until December 2011, a total of 132 projects had not been used for the approved development within the time limit stipulated by the expropriation plan. These projects had been approved up to as early as 25 years ago and cover more than 1,370 hectares.

According to the Control Yuan, aside from leaving the expropriated land idle, people who claimed they had a use for the land failed to proactively come up with response measures to rectify the issue, review the original local development plans, or cancel the projects in accordance with the law.

The authorities in charge of these projects also failed to regulate and supervise these people, and to push them to meet their responsibilities according to the law, thus leaving these expropriated land idle for so many years, the Control Yuan added.

Furthermore, the Ministry of the Interior, as the competent authority in charge of implementing the Land Expropriation Act (土地徵收條例), seriously neglected its duty by failing to make all parties handle things in accordance with the law, the Control Yuan said.

The Control Yuan’s reprimand highlights the problem of excessive land expropriation in the nation and a lack of respect for the constitutionally protected right to own property and right to life.

The government often draws up local development plans without carefully studying how land will be expropriated and what the land will be used for. It basically agrees to any local suggestion.

This most recent reprimand by the Control Yuan only concerns regular land expropriation and does not include zone expropriation development projects.

If the various zone expropriation development projects, such as those going on in Miaoli County’s Dapu Borough (大浦), the Puyu (璞玉) development program in Hsinchu County’s Jhubei Township (竹北), the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport MRT project, the project in Danhai New Town (淡海新市鎮) in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Tamsui District (淡水) and the Taoyuan Aerotropolis (桃園航空城) project were included, the number of cases involved would be even larger.

Economic stimulus plans proposed by the government should at least adhere to two major principles. First, they should not sacrifice public benefits and welfare. Second, they should strictly follow due process.

The government’s current actions are not in line with these principles. It carelessly uses its coercive power, deprives disadvantaged groups of their rights and welfare, and uses unjust administrative procedures to create a bunch of fake GDP growth data.

These actions have only assisted big corporations and speculators in driving up real-estate prices and contributed to the problem of social inequality.

Economic stimulus plans like these are frightening and the public would be better off without them.

Hsu Shih-jung is a professor in the Department of Land Economics at National Chengchi University.

Translated by Drew Cameron