President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) should clarify and improve land justice reform promises, reform advocates said yesterday, adding that Ministry of the Interior proposals have failed to guarantee rigorous “public interest” reviews for expropriation cases.
“While Tsai deserves praise for saying that residency and property rights are important, that is far from sufficient. As her promises are not clear or strong enough, they at most demonstrate that she understands the current state of the law,” said Lin Yen-tung (林彥彤), a housing specialist for the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.
Following a protest on Taipei’s Ketagalan Boulevard on Sunday last week by human rights advocates and residents affected by several controversial expropriation cases, Tsai promised to take their views into consideration and rebuild a building demolished in a 2013 incident in the Dapu Borough (大埔) of Miaoli County’s Jhunan Township (竹南), as well as promising to include land rights experts in the Presidential Office’s Human Rights Consultative Committee.
The ministry has promised to refrain from processing expropriation cases until new public hearing requirement reforms are implemented, and proposed higher agreement thresholds for zone expropriation and ministry reviews of controversial cases.
Lin said the ministry’s proposed 90 percent agreement threshold for zone expropriations fails to guarantee that expropriations will only occur for projects that meet a “public interest” test.
“The ministry is blurring the meaning of expropriation,” he said, adding that unlike ordinary expropriations for the construction of public facilities and infrastructure, zone expropriations have typically been similar to joint development projects.
“It is like establishing a common company and then sharing profits among investors,” he said.
“In this example, only the people who are willing should be included — it would not be right for the ministry to convene a meeting to establish a firm and force an unwilling 10 percent to invest their capital just because they are in the minority,” Lin added.
The ministry’s promises to require reviews to determine “necessity” and “public interest” in controversial cases rings hollow, because it retains the administrative flexibility and has not clearly defined how “necessity” and “public interest” would be quantified, he said.
“As soon as ‘public interest’ and ’necessity’ are separated in the review process, it becomes easy to ignore ‘necessity,’ because most development projects can demonstrate at least some public benefit, and of course, you would ‘need’ the land to carry them out,” he said, calling for detailed review requirements similar to environmental impact assessments.
“The harm expropriations cause people is at least as serious as what environmental impact assessments cover, so the government should not be able to get by with just checking a couple of boxes,” he said, adding that the ministry’s promises to temporarily refrain from processing controversial expropriation cases were empty, because local governments are responsible for the vast majority of the process.
He said the ministry should be required to hold automatic public hearings on expropriation cases, rather than delegating hearings to government agencies seeking to expropriate land.
“For public bodies that need land to hold hearings is problematic, because they are not required to by the legal principles involved, and they have an incentive to twist the process to their benefit,” he said.
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