Legislators yesterday called for a reassessment of Taiwan's foreign aid policies during a public hearing and pushed for the drafting of an international cooperation development law which would enable the legislature to monitor foreign aid distribution.
Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Lai Shin-Yuan (賴幸媛), who headed the hearing, said that the focus of foreign aid was to offer humanitarian relief and development-related aid.
However, the lack of transparency and regulations regarding foreign aid has become a problem, Lai said.
To resolve these problems, Lai suggested that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should give the International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF) the power to monitor ministry budgets, as proposed in the draft law.
Lai acknowledged that the ministry was unwilling to let either the fund or the legislature obtain monitoring powers because it felt that some budgets should remain confidential and was happy with its own monitoring mechanisms.
It was understandable that certain budgets were confidential, Lai said. But other open budgets, which amount to approximately NT$9 billion (US$286 million), should be dealt with transparently, he said.
ICDF Deputy Secretary-General Shao Li-chung (邵立中) said that the fund had no intention of assuming control of the ministry's foreign aid initiatives, but did have extensive experience that could be put to good use.
But Shao said the government should still play an important role because its motives for offering aid were different from those of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which did not need to worry about national interests.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Justin Chou (周守訓) said that his party had in the past resorted to "dollar diplomacy," because it was the easiest way to achieve diplomatic ties with other countries under pressure from China.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Cheng Yun-Peng (鄭運鵬) said that the government often forgot that foreign aid was not just about money, but about economic development that could benefit both the recipient and the donor country.
Cheng cited the example of Japan, whose foreign aid he said was directed primarily at promoting infrastructural development in recipient countries, but involved construction projects that only Japanese companies could participate in.
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"A state can change and so can a government, but the people do not change," Chiu said. "Therefore NGOs should play a key role in foreign aid."
In response, Yan Jiann-fa (顏建發), chairman of the ministry's Research and Planning Committee, said NGOs such as the ICDF did not have the ability to undertake many aspects of foreign aid work because they may not fully understand government policies.
The ICDF could serve as a coordinator, but there are areas in which the ministry needs to take the lead, Yan said.
In addition, many instances of foreign aid are confidential, he said.
"If the budgets are publicized, then recipient countries will start comparing their aid packages," Yan said.
As for whether the legislature should have control over foreign aid budgets, as Chui suggested, or be allowed to monitor non-confidential budgets, as the draft law proposes, there was still room for discussion, he said.