Sat, Feb 19, 2000 - Page 1 News List

Party reform bills stalled by acrimony

LEGISLATURE Though there is still time for a compromise to be reached, it appears that the KMT and its opponents are too far apart on their basic positions

By Stephanie Low  /  STAFF REPORTER

Inter-party negotiations over the passage of three political reform bills broke down yesterday, with wide differences remaining over what role parties should play in commercial enterprises and how the KMT's billions of dollars in assets should be dealt with.

In what was promised as a move to level the political playing field, the KMT's presidential candidate, Vice President Lien Chan (連戰), pledged on Jan. 2 to end the party's direct operation of commercial businesses by putting its assets into trust.

The Trust Enterprise Law, the Political Party Law, Lobby Law and Political Contributions Man-agement Law are seen as the manifestation of that pledge, and they are supposed to be passed by next Tuesday -- before the end of the current, truncated legislative session and in time for the presidential election.

Besides the Trust Enterprise Law, the bills have never been debated in committee, having been sent straight to the second reading on the floor. Inter-party negotiations, therefore, are seen as a necessary step to achieve consensus before a vote is taken.

Lawmakers have agreed in principle that all four bills will go through the second and third reading together. If one is held up, none will pass.

Yesterday, however, it became clear that major differences over the Political Party Law -- which specifically restricts parties' roles in commercial businesses -- are proving difficult to overcome.

Both the DPP and New Party insist that the law should expressly forbid parties from either investing in or operating commercial businesses.

The KMT argues that investment should be permissible, just as long as parties do not operate the businesses themselves.

The KMT is the only party in Taiwan to have commercial business operations.

Hong Yuh-chin (洪玉欽), executive director of the KMT's policy affairs committee, defended the party's stance as reasonable.

"We will stop operating commercial businesses and the assets will be entrusted to generate earnings [to sustain the party's operation]," Hong said. "Otherwise, how is the KMT going to take care of the large number of its workers, both active and retired?"

His position did not go unchallenged, however. Cheng Pao-ching (鄭寶清), director general of the DPP caucus, said the KMT was being insincere in its commitment to reform.

"The KMT is trying to dazzle voters with pledges of reform, just to win votes," Cheng said.

"Lien promised one thing, but the party's actually doing ano-ther," he said.

The DPP has also demanded that an independent committee be set up to investigate and handle the KMT assets, which it alleges were mostly obtained through illegal and inappropriate methods during the martial law era.

Taiwan's second-largest party, which has barely stayed afloat financially for most of its 13-year existence, maintains that the KMT should only be allowed to put assets into trust that have been determined to be clean. Moreover, it says, no party should possess assets worth more than NT$3 billion.

"The KMT will gain even more money after the assets are put into trust. Thus, there will never be fair competition between political parties in Taiwan," argued Lin Tzung-nan (林宗男), the executive director of the DPP caucus.

The KMT officially claims its assets are worth about NT$100 billion, but some analysts have put the figure nearer NT$600 billion,which would make it by far the world's richest political party.

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