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Tue, Jan 18, 2000 - Page 4 News List

Officials set launch date for coast guard

TESTING THE WATERS Legislators and analysts have questioned the basis on which the new Coast Guard Administration has been established, and many believe that the body may create more problems than it solves

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Despite doubts as to its ability to function effectively, the controversial Coast Guard Administra-tion (海岸巡防署) is set to formally commence operations at the beginning of February, following the passage of relevant legislation last week.

The Coast Guard Administration (CGA) is an amalgamation of a number of separate agencies, and many lawmakers and analysts have expressed doubts that it will be able to operate as effectively as promised. They question whether it will be able to unify the different governmental agencies and reduce rampant smuggling.

Despite these doubts, the KMT's legislative caucus still managed to push the bill through by using its majority advantage, in accordance with instructions from the party's leadership to bring the administration into operation on schedule. Initially this was set for Jan. 1, but was put back to Feb. 1. Units of the administration, especially those on offshore islands, have already been in operation for some weeks on an informal basis.

New Party lawmakers said they had no power to prevent the bill's passage and that all they could do was extract promises from the KMT to prevent what they said were worst case scenarios that the creation of the new administration could entail. Specifically, they were referring to the military withdrawal from key defense links by the new administration, which they believe will leave Taiwan vulnerable to invasion.

Lawmaker Li Chu-feng (李炷烽) said the New Party caucus insisted, for example, that the bill be passed with an additional clause that troops on the offshore Kinmen and Matsu islands would not be withdrawn following the creation of the CGA.

Such worries arose from reports over the past few months about the withdrawal of troops from the Pratas (東沙) and Spratley (南沙) islands in the South China Sea. The military has insisted the action would not be tantamount to an actual withdrawal of troops, but was simply a replacement of troops with coast guard personnel.

Li, elected from Kinmen, said the establishment of the CGA also goes against the government's current trend of streamlining the military, because nearly half of the administration's personnel will be given higher ranks or positions after they are transferred to the administration from their current units in the coast guard command of the military, marine police department, and customs office under the Ministry of Finance (財政部).

DPP lawmakers, though less strident in their criticism of the administration, have said that it should have been given departmental rather than ministerial rank and that the combined military and civilian elements should be minimized.

Su Chin-chiang (蘇進強), a former serviceman and now a military analyst at Nanhua University (南華大學), agreed the status of the administration is higher than it should be, warning that the its operation could be crippled by its top-heavy organization.

"It is not proper to place the administration at the ministerial level, on an equal standing with the Ministry of National Defense. Who will supervise this agency? The premier?" Su asked.

"The combined use of military and civilian personnel is not proper, either. But it is an unavoidable evil, one which the agency will have to put up with," he said.

According to laws related to the administration of the agency, military personnel transferred there will have to achieve public servant qualifications within eight years.

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