The Association for Taiwan Indigenous Peoples’ Policies (ATIPP) has criticized as superficial a provision allowing residents in Aboriginal districts in special municipalities to elect their district chief and a representative council, while special municipalities worry the provision may result in a large financial burden.
According to the Local Government Act (地方制度法), designated Aboriginal townships are entitled to special rights, such as direct funding from the central government, independence in handling budgets and freedom to elect mayors and representative councils.
However, administrative upgrades turning several former cities and counties into special municipalities either separately or after mergers in 2010 have turned several former Aboriginal townships — including Wulai Township (烏來) in former Taipei County, Heping Township (和平) in former Taichung County, and Taoyuan (桃源), Namasiya (那瑪夏) and Maolin (茂林) townships in former Kaohsiung County — into special municipal districts.
In these districts, chiefs are appointed by the mayor, while all decisions are made by the city council.
Responding to protests and petitions by Aboriginal rights groups, the Legislative Yuan adopted a series of amendments to the Local Government Act allowing Aboriginal residents in such districts within special municipalities to elect district chiefs and representative councils.
However, the amendments are less than satisfactory to some.
“Although, it may seem that Aboriginal districts in special municipalities have more power now as residents will be allowed to elect their own district chief and council, the elections are superficial, and political rights for Aborigines in Aboriginal districts are still minimal compared to those living in Aboriginal townships in counties,” ATIPP president Oto Micyang, an Amis Aborigine, said yesterday.
Oto said that, for instance, Aboriginal townships receive funds directly from the central government, and township offices and councils collectively make budgetary decisions, “but now, even though Aboriginal residents in special municipalities are able to elect their district chiefs and councils, the funding would still come from the municipal councils, so it is still the city councils that have the final say on the allocation of funds.”
“During his first presidential campaign in 2008 and re-election bid in 2012, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) promised to grant autonomy to the nation’s Aborigines,” Oto said. “But there’s not only lack of progress in Aboriginal autonomy, we’re moving backward on the issue.”
Greater Kaohsiung Government Deputy Secretary-General Chien Chen-cheng (簡振澄) expressed concern about the financial burden.
“Greater Kaohsiung has three Aboriginal districts — Namasiya, Taoyuan and Maolin — so it would be a big financial burden for us to fund district chief and council elections,” Chien said. “In addition, the city government would have to pay for the salaries of district chiefs and council members.”
Chien called on the central government to grant the city governments more financial assistance in organizing the elections and paying the salaries.
However, Deputy Minister of the Interior Hsiao Chia-chi (蕭家淇) said that while the Ministry of the Interior does not have the final say on how the funding is allocated, what Chien calls for is not likely to happen.