Observers welcome plan to streamline legislature

By Crystal Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sat, Aug 25, 2001 - Page 3

Observers noted yesterday that proposals to strengthen the speaker's power and to close committee meetings to the media could enhance the legislature's efficiency, but only to a limited degree.

With the nation due to elect new lawmakers in less than 100 days, politicians and scholars of all flavors are giving serious thought to reforming the legislature -- whose performance is widely frowned upon by the public.

"To help achieve their goals, the legislature may learn from its Japanese counterpart and close its committee meetings to the press," said P. K. Chiang (江炳坤), president of the National Policy Foundation, a KMT think tank.

Chiang, who lived in Japan for 13 years, said the Japanese parliament processes up to 99 percent of the bills proposed by the executive branch during each session despite its bicameral design and a much bigger membership of 764 seats.

He attributed the Japanese legislature's high efficiency in part to their closed-door deliberations, as it denies publicity-hungry deputies an important venue to stage political sideshows.

Equally important, Chiang noted that Japanese parliamentarians normally stick to the same committee throughout their term in order to familiarize themselves with the policy issues they work with. In Taiwan, lawmakers obtain their committee seats through the drawing of lots when aspirants exceed the ceiling of 21. Many fight to sit on the powerful committees of finance, budget, and transportation.

Chiang, who published two books on legislative reform three years ago, suggested dividing the committee seats among party caucuses whose leaders may assign their members to the 12 standing committees and three special committees.

To rein in roguish members, he said, the legislative speaker should be given more power -- as in other democracies. "The Japanese parliamentary leader, for instance, has the right to expel unruly colleagues," Chiang said.

Echoing similar ideas, Spencer Yang (楊泰順), director of the political science department at Chinese Culture University, said the criticism against lawmakers is universal. He noted that approval ratings for the US Congress stand at 50 percent on the average with the lowest point below 20.

"Compared with other government officials, legislators have more direct contact with the people," Yang said. "A key part of their duty -- serving the constituents -- makes them susceptible to the influence of interest groups." Still, he conceded there is ample room for the legislature to improve.

To that end, he agreed with the idea of increasing the authority of the legislative speaker and the adjustment of committee rules. Yang said that the US speaker has the right to decide who may speak during legislative reviews and assign bills to a specific committee for review, privileges not available for domestic legislative leaders.

He also advised against keeping committee reviews open to the media, saying that they are solemn venues of cross-party negotiations in the US. "But committee meetings here rarely produce meaningful discussion, as members care more about catching media attention than the bills at hand," Yang said. The more sensational their conduct, the more coverage they draw.

Kao Yuang-kuang (高永光), a political scientist at National Chengchi University, agreed in part, noting that all reform proposals have their strengths and weaknesses. He also suggested adjusting committees to correspond to Cabinet ministries to strengthen legislative oversight and the quality of the nation's politics.