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Tue, Oct 26, 1999 - Page 2 News List

Necessity of emergency decree laws questioned

By Oliver Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

At least four bills that could act as an "emergency decree law" have been proposed by legislators as of yesterday, in reaction to the emergency decree declared by President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) in the aftermath of the 921 earthquake.

But at least one legal expert said yesterday that such a law is unnecessary, unless the Constitution is amended to allow for substantial restrictions to be placed on such decrees.

Partly at the urging of lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties, President Lee issued an emergency decree on Sept. 25, four days after the deadly earthquake which killed more than 2,400 people and destroyed or damaged more than 80,000 houses. The decree took effect immediately, as the Constitution allows, and was later ratified almost unanimously by the legislature.

Soon thereafter, however, opposition lawmakers began complaining that the emergency decree had resulted in an abuse of power by the executive branch. They claimed that the Executive Yuan was taking advantage of the vagueness of the decree and expanding its power without any necessary checks and balances being put in place.

As a counter-measure, opposition legislators have proposed at least four draft versions of a emergency decree law. The most recent has been co-sponsored by DPP lawmakers Hung Chi-chang (洪奇昌), Lee Wen-chung (李?憍?/CHINESE>) and Lai Chin-lin (賴勁麟).

The trio claimed yesterday that to clarify a decree's authority and responsibilities, an emergency law within the boundaries of the Constitution should be passed by the legislature to regulate its implementation.

Legislators Shen Fu-hsiung (沈富雄), Yu Cheng-tao (余政1D), and the New Party legislative caucus have all separately presented their own versions of draft laws covering the emergency decree.

But according to the Constitution, it is not necessary to write a law covering the emergency decree, said Su Yung-chin (蘇永欽), a law professor at National Chengchi University.

"It is not impermissible to have such a law ," Su said "but if it is to be done within the Constitution, there will be no point, as such a law can only regulate administrative formats and procedures, but not anything substantial as to what the government can or cannot do," he said.

If only for means of procedure, current laws are sufficient, he said. An article in the Constitution originally specified that an emergency decree must be preceded by an emergency decree law, but that article was later frozen by an amendment to the Constitution in 1991. The amendment stipulates that the president can issue an emergency decree to deal with emergency situations, without any specification on what should be done except that the decree should be rectified by the legislature.

Thus, it would be unconstitutional if the legislature wrote an emergency decree law that substantially restricts the power the president and the administrative branch of the government, Su said.

Admittedly, it is a legitimate concern that the administrative branch could have too much power under the current Constitution, Su said. However, to address this concern, the Constitution needs to be amended, he said.

As a matter of fact, Lee Wen-chung said, he and his colleagues recognize the constitutional shortcoming, and they called yesterday for an amendment to the Constitution to properly cover the emergency decree.

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