Thu, Jan 07, 2010 - Page 3 News List

Hakka Act shoots ‘blanks’, activist says

‘EMPTY INSIDE’ The Council for Hakka Affairs said the Act would protect Taiwan’s ethnic and cultural diversity, but a critic said the material was covered by other laws

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Council for Hakka Affairs (CHA) praised the legislature’s passage of the Hakka Basic Act (客家基本法) on Tuesday as a milestone in preserving Hakka culture, but activists were more reserved on what impact the Act would have.

The Hakka Basic Act, proposed by the council last year, aims to preserve Hakka culture and encourage the use of the Hakka language in public affairs. The Act requires counties and cities with a population that is more than 10 percent Hakka to create an agency to manage Hakka affairs. It also ­requires a Hakka language test in certain national exams and requires public servants in townships and cities where more than one-third of the population is Hakka to pass the Hakka proficiency test.

The Act also stipulates that at public places like schools, hospitals, train stations and courts, public announcements must be made in Hakka along with other languages and Hakka translation services must be available.

In addition, the Act asks the government to create a “Hakka Day.”

“We Hakka are not asking for privileges — all the clauses in the Hakka Basic Act are positive and non-exclusive measures aimed at granting equal rights [for Hakka] but not at the expense of other ethnic groups” CHA Minister Huang Yu-chen (黃玉振) said in a statement. “Hence it’s a law that will protect the ethnic and cultural diversity in this country.”

“It’s a milestone in Hakka affairs, and draws a long-lasting blue print for the development of the Hakka people,” he said.

Some Hakka activists and academics were reserved about what impact the Act would have.

“Of course the Hakka Basic Act will have a positive effect [on the protection of Hakka culture], but the question is: ‘How big will the impact be?’” said Chiang Ming-hsiu (江明修), dean of the College of Hakka Studies at National Central University.

He said that the former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government and the current Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government have done much to preserve Hakka culture, and that the Act still leaves most policy-making power in the hands of the government.

“So the main function of the law is to provide a legal basis on what the government is already doing,” Chiang said.

Lee Chiao (李喬), a long-time Hakka culture preservationist and writer, said that the intention behind the Hakka Basic Act is very good, “but the key will be how the law is turned into policies, how these policies are implemented and what exact measures the government has in mind.”

DPP Department of Hakka Affairs director Yiong Cong-ziin (楊長鎮) criticized the Act as a “blank cartridge.”

“The law appears to be very good at first sight, but take a closer look and you find it’s actually empty inside,” Yiong told the Taipei Times by telephone. “Eighty percent of the contents can be implemented through executive measures, and thus there’s no need to go through all the trouble of making a new law for those.”

He said that, for instance, having public announcements in Hakka at public places such as train stations is a policy that has been in practice since the DPP was in power.

“A Hakka Basic Act should deal with something more fundamental, not some policy measures that can be done even without a law,” Yiong said.

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