The Presidential Office yesterday dismissed concerns that political factors motivated President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) visits to disaster-hit areas in the wake of Typhoon Saola and insisted that Ma was inspecting areas that were most seriously hit, including Yilan, Hualien and Taitung counties.
Ma visited Yilan County and New Taipei City’s (新北市) Sansia District (三峽) on Friday afternoon to inspect local damage and traveled to Hualien and Taitung yesterday to continue his inspection tour in eastern Taiwan.
Some residents in southern cities have complained about the president’s failures to visit the South, expressing concerns that the president skipped them for political reasons as most of the cities are governed by local government heads from the pan-green camp.
“The president visited Taitung County because it suffered some of the worst damage to agriculture. Yilan County was also seriously hit by the typhoon. We arranged the inspection trips after discussing the post-typhoon situation with local governments. There’s no political factor behind the trips,” Presidential Office spokesman Fan Chiang Tai-chi (范姜泰基) said.
Agricultural losses from Typhoon Saola in Taitung County reached NT$65 million (US$2.1 million). Agricultural losses and infrastructure losses in Yilan County, on the other hand, totals more than NT$170 million.
When Ma visited Yilan on Friday, Yilan County Commissioner Lin Tsung-hsien (林聰賢) of the Democratic Progressive Party and local legislators accompanied him during the trip to inspect the disaster-hit areas, Fan Chiang said.
During his visit to Taitung County yesterday morning, the president promised to relax criteria for agricultural compensation and streamline the application process for compensation for agricultural losses after a local banana farmer kneeled down before him and asked for government’s help.
“All of the banana trees in my 2-hectare banana farm were blown down by the typhoon and it’s a NT$2 million loss,” said the banana farmer, surnamed Ku (古).
Ma promised to help local farmers survive the damage in the wake of the typhoon and instructed the Council of Agriculture to handle the compensation for agricultural losses in a fast and simple manner, so local farmers can be compensated as quickly as possible.
According to government figures, agricultural losses accumulated over the past few days topped NT$677.9 million (US$22.6 million) as of yesterday, due to the heavy rain and strong winds brought by Typhoon Saola.
The heaviest losses — NT$462.4 million — were suffered by farms growing bananas, pineapples, cabbages and other seasonal fruit and vegetables.
Damage to fields and agricultural facilities was also heavy, totalling NT$147.8 million, while damage to the aquaculture sector amounted to NT$52.9 million, largely in Toucheng Township (頭城) in Yilan County.
The Council of Agriculture said that farmers and aquaculturists in Yilan and Taitung counties are eligible for low-interest loans to help with reconstruction.
Additional reporting by CNA