Hualien County has been a rising star among the nation’s counties, having been able to repay more than NT$1.2 billion (US$40 million) of its debt and NT$600 million in interest, as well as achieving positive growth in almost all sectors.
In a recent interview with the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper), independent Hualien County Commissioner Fu Kun-chi (傅崐萁) said Hualien residents can see with their own eyes how far the county has come during the four years under his governance, rather than just rely on what he called cold statistics.
Fu said he wanted a general and balanced development for the county and that he endeavored to give equal attention to education, finance, environmental protection and the county’s visibility in terms of the international community.
Faced with a daunting NT$13.3 billion debt from the previous commissioner, Fu made debt repayment his primary goal, based on the concept that one should not burden future generations with the debts of their forebears.
Fu’s efforts cleared NT$1.2 billion from the slate and led Hualien to be the only county government to pay back debt for three consecutive years.
“Hualien will only have a future once the county debt has been settled,” Fu said.
Fu said his insistence on paying back debt has not harmed the county’s economic growth; Hualien’s national tax income since he took office has increased by NT$1 billion, or 15 percent, while local revenue has increased by NT$340 million, or 17.4 percent.
Fu also accented the importance of Hualien’s need to connect with the international community and said that his policies have led to exponential growth in international flights passing through Hualien.
The county won second place in the “D” category of Livable Community’s (LivCom) Whole City Awards last year, Fu said, adding that Hualien has made a good start and he hoped to continue to make Hualien a common sight on international event programs.
The LivCom Awards seek to encourage best practices, innovation and leadership in providing a vibrant, environmentally sustainable community that improves the quality of life. The “D” category covers population centers with 150,001 to 400,000 residents.
In terms of education, Hualien was the first county in the nation to implement completely free elementary-school admission by waiving fees for lunch, admission, class aides and books.
Fu has also invested the foremost amount of funding in the county government’s water regulation projects and the its medical tourism industry is also top-notch.
The county’s 3.8 percent unemployment rate is not only lower than the national rate of 4 percent, but the county also ranks second in the nation in the number of people gainfully employed.
Speaking of how he recently visited a pomelo orchard after Typhoon Matmo hit the nation in July, Fu said one of the farmers was extremely touched that he made the visit so soon after the storm.
“I held in my hands the trust the people had [in the county government] and I knew how heavy such burden can be; I hope only to repay their trust with redoubled efforts [on beneficial policies,]” Fu said, adding that he has donated all of his pay as county commissioner every half year.
As of March, he had donated more than NT$8.8 million to help improve the county, he added.