City upgrades draw mixed reaction

DISSATISFACTION: The DPP criticized an ad-hoc committee's decision as biased against DPP-ruled regions, while the KMT told the opposition to stop complaining

By Loa Iok-sin, Jenny W. Hsu and Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Thu, Jun 25, 2009 - Page 1

Reaction to a special panel's decision on applications by 11 cities and counties to be upgraded or merged into a municipal city was mixed yesterday, with those receiving the green light expressing joy while those rejected saying they were perplexed and calling the decision “unfair.”

A 25-person ad hoc committee convened by the Ministry of the Interior unanimously approved on Tuesday night the upgrading of Taipei County to a municipal city and the mergers of Taichung City and County and Kaohsiung City and County.

The committee, however, unanimously rejected the applications submitted by Taoyuan County and Changhua County to be upgraded to municipal cities, as well as a merger application by Yunlin County and Chiayi County.

It also failed to reach a consensus on Tainan City and County's proposal to be merged and upgraded to a municipal city. Tainan's application will therefore be referred to the Executive Yuan for a decision, Minister of the Interior Liao Liou-yi (廖了以) said.

All recommendations made by the committee must be approved by the Executive Yuan to be implemented.

If they are sanctioned by the Executive Yuan, incumbent Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), as well as Taipei County Commissioner Chou Hsi-wei (周錫瑋) and Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) will have their tenures extended by a year until the heads of the newly formed municipal cities are elected late next year.

Chou told a news conference yesterday that the administrative upgrade for the county was “the beginning of heavier responsibility and more pressure.”

He added that he would help build the county into a modern and international metropolis.

“I will make Sinbei City (新北市) a modern and civilized city with an international perspective and raise the quality of life for all residents,” Chou said.

“Sinbei City” was the name adopted by Taipei County Council in April for Taipei County once it is upgraded to a municipal city.

There is no official English translation for the name yet, county government spokesman Lee Tsung-kwei (李宗桂) said, adding that it may be translated as Sinbei City or New Taipei City.

Hu said that after Taichung City merges with Taichung County and is upgraded to a municipal city, “Taichung will become a very attractive destination for investment.”

Hu said he planned to push for several new urban development projects for the new Taichung metropolis.

Taichung County Commissioner Huang Chung-sheng (黃仲生) said the enlarged and upgraded New Taichung City would ensure balanced regional development.

As for the county's Aboriginal township — Heping Township (和平) — Huang said he supported designating it as an Aboriginal special administrative region.

Taichung Deputy Mayor Hsiao Chia-chi (蕭家旗) said that since elections for the head of the new Taichung municipal city would not be held until next year, Hu could take his time in considering whether he would join the race.

Chen said it was “simply natural” for her to seek re-election now that the merger between Kaohsiung City and County had been approved.

“I will strive to win the support of Kaohsiung residents with the outstanding performance of my administrative team and will come up with a blueprint for development of the Greater Kaohsiung area soon,” she said in an interview with cable network SETTV yesterday.

Meanwhile, Taoyuan County Commissioner Eric Chu (朱立倫) of the KMT asked committee members to explain why the county's bid failed.

Chiayi County Commissioner Chen Ming-wen (陳明文) said the results were “unfair” to Yunlin and Chiayi counties.

“This is just another example of how the government often overlooks the needs of the nation's agricultural counties,” Chen said.

“After turning down our application, I wonder if the government has a better plan for our agriculture and farming villages?” he said.

Agriculture is the predominant economic activity in the two counties.

Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬) also voiced concern for the future of the nation's agricultural sector.

“The [committee's] decision may result in a larger gap between rural and industrialized areas in the country,” she said. “The government should come up with a plan to balance development in urban and rural areas.”

DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) told a press conference that the result of the review was politically motivated and urged the ministry to tell the public why the review committee approved the merger application of Taichung City and County, but not the proposal of Tainan City and County, which is equally qualified.

She said that spending only one day to review all 11 proposals was sloppy work on the part of the committee.

Tainan Mayor Hsu Tain-tsair (?]) said he suspected the committee's decision was politically motivated because Tainan City and County were both headed by DPP officials.

The review committee for the mergers and upgrades of the nation's counties and cities does not understand Tainan, Hsu said.

“Because the committee does not understand Tainan, [committee members] asked how can Tainan qualify to become a municipal city when its population does not even meet the 2 million threshold,” he said.

“Tainan has about 1.8 million people, very close to 2 million. As the nation's old capital, Tainan's value is determined by its rich cultural assets, not by its population,” Hsu said.

KMT Legislator Huang Chao-shun (黃昭順), who represents constituents in Kaohsiung City, declined to comment when asked whether she planned to run for Kaohsiung mayor next year.

However, she rebutted DPP criticism that the government had deliberately denied DPP-ruled cities and counties the chance to be upgraded to a municipal city.

“If the ministry had decided before the review which application to approve, the central government would not have passed the planned merger between ­Kaohsiung City and County, both of which are ruled by the DPP,” she said.

Taipei County's application had been the subject of speculation, with media reports saying it would be approved to block former premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), a popular DPP heavyweight, from running against Chou.

Su Tseng-chang yesterday applauded Taipei County's approval and joked that if “Operation Destroy Su” was what it took to make the approval possible, then he would gladly play a part.

At a separate setting yesterday, the KMT called on Su Tseng-chang to stop being disgruntled because he failed to have Taipei County upgraded to a municipal city during his term as county commissioner.

Su Tseng-chang should not piggy back on Taipei County's case to boost his exposure, KMT spokesman Lee Chien-jung (李建榮) said.

Lee said the KMT had no comment on the results of the ministry's review and fully respected the professionalism of the committee.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY FLORA WANG, SHELLEY SHAN AND CNA