Government to take control of irrigation

WELFARE NOT CONSIDERED?:KMT Legislator Wang Hui-mei said the proposed reform was politically motivated and a scare tactic to pressurize farmers to vote for the DPP

By Lee Hsin-fang, Cheng Hung-ta and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporters, with staff writer

Sat, Nov 11, 2017 - Page 1

A draft amendment to the Organic Regulations for Irrigation and Water Conservancy Associations (農田水利會組織通則) would see the heads of the associations appointed by the government and abolish elections should it be ratified by the legislature, the Executive Yuan said on Thursday.

Premier William Lai (賴清德) pledged that returning associations to government control would result in better services for farmers.

Lai instructed all responsible agencies to discuss the issue with caucuses of all the parties in the legislature.

“The importance of the amendment should be communicated to the public to win support for the government’s agricultural reforms,” he said.

“To ensure the smooth passage of the new policy, the Council of Agriculture must effectively communicate it to all its staff,” Lai added.

The terms of the heads of the 15 associations in Taipei and Keelung would be extended to Sept. 30, 2020, while the heads of the Taipei Qixing Irrigation Association and Taipei Liugong Irrigation Association would continue to serve until the end of their terms on Sept. 30, 2020.

The government would appoint the heads of the associations after that date, while any vacancies on association committees between now and Sept. 30, 2020, would not be filled by holding an election, he said.

All the associations would need to observe the Civil Service Administrative Neutrality Act (公務人員行政中立法), the Executive Yuan said.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers expressed support for the policy, while the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) questioned the decision and said it would make the associations a tool for political manipulation.

KMT Legislator Wang Hui-mei (王惠美) yesterday said the reform was politically motivated and is a scare tactic to coerce farmers to vote for the DPP, with no consideration of the welfare of farmers.

It remains unclear whether the local government or the Council of Agriculture would be in charge should problems arise, while farmers in non-irrigated areas would also be at a loss as to who they should approach to liaise with the local government, Wang said.

DPP Legislator Liu Chao-hao (劉櫂豪) said such comments were erroneous and that the KMT had also attempted to turn the associations into government agencies.

DPP Legislator Hung Tsung-yi (洪宗熠) said that water, as a public resource, should be handled by the government and not a profit-driven organization.

The policy would encourage administrative neutrality, removing the chance of local factions using the position to gain political influence.

The Taiwan Water Resources Conservation Union said the associations receive annual subsidies of NT$6 billion (US$198.9 million) from the Council of Agriculture, but their accounts remain unsupervised.

Some associations sell water rights illegally, diverting what should have been water for agricultural use to the Southern Taiwan Science Park, the union said.

Union member Nien Li-yu (粘麗玉) called for swift implementation of the new policy.

Additional reporting by Wu Hsin-tien, Yang Mien-chieh and Su Fang-ho