Sun, Sep 12, 2004 - Page 17 News List

Yunlin's big brother

Millions of NT dollars amassed through illegal gravel business, graft and general corruption. Sounds like a case born in Yunlin.

By Derek Lee  /  STAFF REPORTER

The distance from the open-air water treatment plant, still under construction, to the soon-to-be-completed incinerator, shown in the background with the tall chimney, is only 1.8km. Local residents worry that fall-out from the incinerator will contaminate the water plant.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Taiwan's agricultural backwater county of Yunlin is so poor that the county government still cannot afford to provide clean tap water for most of its 750,000 residents.

However, its county council didn't bat an eye when it poured NT$700 million into a grandiose council hall approved by its speaker Chang Jung-wei (張榮味). On the county government Web site, it boasts the session room of the hall, completed in 2001, is "the most spacious" county and city council hall in the country.

While Yunlin may lack clean drinking water, it has never been short of crime syndicates whose tentacles reach all over Taiwan, earning the county the popular moniker of "hometown of the mobsters."

The county commissioner Chang, now in exile, has never denied his close relationship with the underworld community.

Throughout the period of single-party KMT rule in Taiwan until 2000, mobsters-turned-politicians learned every trick to siphon off huge amounts of government funds for local construction projects, such as new parks, schools or roads.

Some of these dangerous criminals in disguise would advance step by step in their political careers from township representatives, to county councilpersons and all the way up to legislators. A few, like Chang, have even been elected county commissioners or city mayors.

Fulbright scholar Chin Ko-lin (陳國霖) cited in his recently published book, Heijin (黑金), a popular joke in Yunlin dramatizing the situation. It would ask visitors the question: "Where have all the street gangsters gone in Yunlin?" The answer is: "They have all become politicians."

Chang, a well-known syndicate member from Tuku, Yunlin, was born into a farming family. The young Chang in his early twenties was jailed for three years in a 1984 nationwide crackdown on gangsters. Upon his release from prison, he worked as an aide to Chen Shi-chang (陳錫章), a local underworld leader and former member of the Control Yuan (監察委員) under the KMT government.

Another underworld "big brother" and former KMT legislator from Yunlin is Lin Ming-i (林明義). Lin was Chen's protege and served two terms from 1996 to 2001 in the Legislative Yuan. As soon as Chen stepped down from his official post in the KMT administration, he began to back Chang.

By 1989, at the tender age of 28, Chang was elected county councilman for the first time and only months later ascended to the post of the county council speaker, mainly courtesy of Chen's behind-the-scenes maneuvering.

Until last month, Chang, a KMT member when not at odds with the party leadership, enjoyed superb popularity both in the political arena and underworld community in Yunlin. He was even addressed as "King of central Taiwan" (中部王) when he was elected county commissioner in 1999, in a poll that adversaries said was marred by outrageous vote-rigging and intimidation.

Nevertheless, Chang shot himself in the foot in November 2000 when he pushed through a project to build an incinerator in Linnei Township (林內鄉). The project immediately sparked furious opposition from residents.

Female legislator Su Chi-fen (蘇治芬), a prominent opponent in Yunlin of the incinerator project, said: "It is absolutely insane for Chang to build an incinerator that is so close to an open-air water treatment plant, which will soon be ready to supply clean tap water to most of the local residents, including some in neighboring Changhua and Nantou counties. The distance between these two public utility plants is only 1.8km. People are really worried about fallout from the incinerator contaminating the water plant, which could do great damage to their health."

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