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Tue, Dec 07, 1999 - Page 3 News List

Peng and KMT spar over new farmland bill

REFORM Analysts say the KMT's passing of a bill liberalizing the sales of agricultural land caters to conglomerates and puts the environment at risk

By Lauren Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Chairman of the Council of Agriculture Peng Tso-kuei yesterday discusses his proposed reform plan by showing a picture of a European rural landscape during a press conference that he called to announce his resignation.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

The revised Agriculture Development Act now sitting in the legislature -- the brainchild of the Council of Agriculture under Chairman Peng Tso-kwei (彭作奎) -- was originally regarded as a `second chance' for land reform in Taiwan. With the presidential election gearing up, however, the KMT and the cabinet's inner circle recently came under enormous pressure from KMT legislators -- particularly those elected from traditional rural constituencies -- to substitute the revision with one of its own. The result was a reversal of the government's stance on loosening restrictions over newly-purchased agricultural land, and the sudden resignation of an indignant Peng.

A 'Pandora's box'

Standing firm on his decision to step down from office, Peng yesterday sternly criticized the government's relaxing regulations over Taiwan's agricultural land-use policy.

"It would be like opening a Pandora's box," he said, referring to a host of potential problems, such as renewed land speculation, overdevelopment, the further erosion of Taiwan's environment and the disappearance of the remaining land actually used to grow crops on.

In fact, the revised version of the Agriculture Development Act, drafted by Peng's agency, differs in only one respect: the controversial article over whether or not to allow houses to be built on newly-sold farm land. The Cabinet version stipulates that only community-style subdivision housing be permitted, while the KMT's new proposal would allow individual homes to be built.

The Cabinet's version of the bill includes two other major proposals: opening up the market for agricultural land (農地自由買賣), and decreasing limitations on how shares of agricultural plots smaller than approximately five hectares can be subdivided (放寬分割限制) -- a measure aimed at reducing inheritance disputes.

Aides to Peng have criticized the three articles describing them as a three-legged table, which, once one leg has been damaged, the whole structure will be brought to the ground.

Analysts say, however, that reform on the free trade of farm land must be undertaken in order to introduce both capital and modern technology into agriculture as Taiwan nears entry into the WTO.

They said even Peng agreed about that.

However, the core of the issue, according to Peng, lies in housing development.

"If barriers to lowering the price of agricultural land are dropped, and people are allowed to subdivide it into portions, and if we begin granting permission to build on newly purchased farm land, I'm afraid that agricultural land will be washed away on a massive scale," Peng said.

Critics also worried that if the ban on building farm houses on newly sold agricultural land is lifted, some land, especially those plots located in city suburbs, will be swallowed up by conglomerates. Furthermore, they said, in the name of building farm houses, they may actually feed the trend of mansion-style housing complexes.

"This would also endanger the progress of our agricultural modernization," Peng said.

To consolidate his policy position, Peng raised other questions regarding the KMT legislative caucus' alternative proposal.

"If every single farm plot becomes full of farm houses, we can neither proceed with large scale hi-tech agricultural cultivation, nor spray insecticide from the air," Peng said.

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