Legislators from all parties, academics and representatives from more than 50 civic organizations yesterday held a press conference at the legislature to urge the government to start investigating cases in which the government is allowing the private sector to profit off state-owned land.
Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association secretary-general Lin Tzu-lin (林子凌) said the Council of Agriculture had loosened the usage limits of forest land by issuing an administrative order last Tuesday, allowing the Forestry Bureau to permit state-owned forestlands that can no longer be used for foresting to become non-public assets.
The groups said that the council was increasingly selling state-owned lands at very low prices, while the national parks are reinitiating Private Participation in Infrastructure Projects (PPIP) — opening government-operated public infrastructures to the private sector for construction and operation.
As a result, the beautiful scenery of Taiwan’s mountains and forests are being given away, they added.
Lin said because of scandals and a departure from the original goals of establishing national parks, the Ministry of the Interior made a rule prohibiting PPIPs in national parks in 2006, but the ministry has once again loosened the conditions, opening a back door to more potential destruction of the environment.
There are several laws that can restrict state-owned forestlands from being occupied and developed by the private sector, such as the National Property Act (國有財產法) and the Forestry Act (森林法), National Chengchi Unversity’s Department of Land Economics chair Hsu Shih-jung (徐世榮) said, but he added that the government, seems fond of using administrative orders to overrule the law.
Thomas Chan (詹順貴), an attorney who has worked closely with environmental groups, said the council’s administrative order had listed many exceptional conditions of state-owned forestland that can be changed to non-public assets, such as stable land that is already leased for operation, which includes the expended area that is not regulated by the lease, or land occupied by a temple or a church.
He questioned whether it was appropriate to turn state-owned forestland into private assets, adding: “Are they really developed to the extent that they can’t be restored to forestland anymore?”
The impact of national land planning is massive and should not be changed with just an administrative order, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chiu Wen-yen (邱文彥) said, adding that land planning affects many people’s lives and property, so the decisionmaking process behind the administrative order be fair and just.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) said that because the recovery rate of occupied state-owned land in Yilan County was 94.86 percent, it should be about the competency of the government.
People First Party (PFP) Legislator Chang Show-foong (張曉風) said it was “unreasonable” that many private companies were destroying mountainous areas for profit, while the victims of natural disasters compounded by destroyed natural environments are local residents, and the cost of emergency rescue operations or compensation fees are also paid by taxpayers.
DPP Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) and Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Lin Shih-chia (林世嘉) also expressed their opposition to the announcement of the council’s administrative order.
In response, Forestry Bureau Deputy Director-General Yang Hung-chih (楊宏志) said the bureau had set up the administrative rules according to the Administrative Procedure Act (行政程序法).
The land still belongs to the government and only the competent authority has changed, Yang added.
“The bureau manages many state-owned lands, but the Forestry Act cannot manage the infrastructure on many of the lands,” he said, adding that it would be better for the central industry authorities to manage the land, instead of applying the Forestry Act.
The civic groups demanded that investigations be made to stop the exchange of favors between certain government agencies and the private sector; the withdrawal of the council’s administrative order allowing the change of land usage; disclosure of companies that occupy or cultivate protected lands; and that the ministry stop accepting PPIP applications.
The legislators said they would introduce a provisional proposal today demanding a withdrawal of the administrative order and the loosened regulations.
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