Several days ago, Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台), unaware the microphones were live, was heard saying that as different government departments were having their budgets reviewed in turn, the others could breathe a sigh of relief while one was being reviewed. However, that comment did not stir up much comment in the media.
Funnily enough, the press did immediately pick up on comments by Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) Minister Stephen Shen (沈世宏), fresh from scrubbing school toilets, made during a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Central Standing Committee meeting. It is not known if Shen was trying to deflect attention from his colleague or if he was simply envious of being out of the limelight, but he also came up with some pretty astonishing assertions: That celebrities, environmental groups and lawyers opposed to the Miramar Resort Village project in Taitung were working for “the other side,” and that the project is perfectly legal, while the Yoho Beach Resort in Kenting National Park, Pingtung County, is entirely illegal.
For a long time now I have been providing my expertise as a lawyer to local residents and environmental groups opposed to the construction of the Miramar resort, and Shen has mentioned me by name in public. I have also appeared in front of TV cameras in support of celebrities and environmental activists opposed to the resort. Shen is very quick to make negative comments about events and individuals although what he says does not always conform to the facts.
Shen has yet to explain just how he considers the construction of the Miramar resort to be completely legal or account for the way this whole process has been handled, like dealing with the environmental impact assessment (EIA) only after construction has illegally commenced. This approach is akin to buying a valid ticket only after boarding the train hoping to get a free ride. All this despite the Supreme Court consistently ruling that construction on the Miramar resort is to be stopped, and despite his acceptance that the Yoho Beach Resort — after having ignored its EIA in the same way as the Miramar resort — is in breach of the law and that it has been operating illegally for years.
The Kenting National Park Headquarters initially submitted its EIA for the Yoho project to the EPA. If Shen thought that the Yoho Beach Resort should be demolished, why did he wait until the EIA issue was broached in the media and why was the issue quickly passed off on to the local government in Pingtung County? And if, according to the law of the land, the Yoho resort should be demolished, surely the EPA minister — who is the official most responsible for environmental issues in the nation — should have done all within his power to assist the Ministry of the Interior’s Kenting National Park Headquarters and the Pingtung County Government to see that it was demolished.
How can he take the attitude that it has nothing to do with him and criticize members of the public who have neither the human or financial resources, nor the power to do anything about it? Unfortunately, mere mortals do not have the power government officials do. All they can do is try to exert some influence over the government through public opinion, by protesting or through the courts.
And then there are the individuals. When Shen publicly mentioned me by name, had he checked that I had previously helped local environmental groups in Pingtung to bring the Yoho case to court? Did he know that I had provided, of my own volition, data from academic environmental research into the coast along Kenting’s Wanlitung (萬里桐), where the Yoho resort is located, so that they could make the case to the Pingtung County government’s EIA review committee that the development should not continue and the resort be torn down? My wife lost her job of the past 10 years because of her opposition to the Yoho construction project.
It is only natural that such a strongly partisan politician would see people and events from a partisan perspective. Other government departments may not see eye to eye. Yes, it might distract the attention of the media for a while, but it is also sure to lower the public’s trust and support of the government even further.
Chan Shun-kuei is a lawyer and chairman of the Taiwan Bar Association’s environmental law committee.
Translated by Paul Cooper