The Ministry of Finance’s plan to sell small state-owned plots of land in Taipei and New Taipei City (新北市) will exacerbate property speculation, raise already high housing prices and will not solve the nation’s public financial problems, civic groups told a press conference yesterday.
If Minister of Finance Chang Sheng-ford (張盛和) lifted the sales ban on plots of land measuring less than 500 ping (1,653m2), as reported, he would be a “prodigal minister who throws away public resources for the wrong reasons,” Anti-Poverty Alliance convener Chien Hsi-chieh (簡錫堦) said.
The government is now trying to lift the ban, which has been in place since March 2010 to stop speculation, and sell state property with the goal of boosting national finances, National Chengchi University land economics professor Chang Chin-oh (張金鶚) said.
“State-owned land should be used to promote public interests, not be sold to benefit property developers,” Chang told the press conference, which organized by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chen Chieh-ju (陳節如) and the Social Housing Advocacy Consortium.
Lifting the ban would likely aggravate surging house prices, which would be ironic because the government has been trying to keep property prices at a reasonable level, he added.
What was worse was that the ministry only consulted with property developers and real-estate agents, who “would be the last ones in the world to oppose lifting [the ban],” but not with academics and civic groups, Chang said.
The small plots of land, in particular in Taipei and New Taipei City, where open space is in short supply, could be used as parks or developed as community care centers for the elderly and children — rather than end up in the hands of property developers, Federation for the Welfare of the Elderly secretary-general Wu Yu-chin (吳玉琴) said.
Taiwan’s financial deficit is so large that even if all state-owned land — with an estimated value of a little more than NT$4 trillion (US$133.5 billion) — was sold, the government would not be able to break even, Social Housing Advocacy Consortium spokesperson Peng Yang-kae (彭揚凱) said.
The fundamental solution for Taiwan’s financial woes lies in tax reform, which is what the Ministry of Finance should be doing, Peng said.
He said that the ministry had done exactly the opposite by cutting taxes and saying the measure would “stimulate the slow domestic economy.”
“Does anyone in this room think the stimulus is working?” Peng said.
He added that yesterday was the 23rd anniversary of a massive protest against high housing prices, when 40,000 people staged an overnight sit-in on Zhongxiao E Road in Taipei on Aug. 26, 1989.
Coincidentally, the protest took place after sales of state-owned land triggered rampant property speculation and an ensuing housing price increase, he said.
“Which means what happened 23 years ago is still happening today. That gives us and the government something to ponder,” Peng added.