Airport bill review postponed

STALLED:While Taoyuan County was actively seeking to influence lawmakers, one critic said the proposed airport zone bill would create a ‘Republic of Taoyuan Airport’

By Shelley Shan and Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sat, Apr 19, 2008 - Page 3

The Legislature’s Transportation Committee decided yesterday to delay its review of the Taoyuan Airport Special Zone bill as controversy over some of its articles remained unresolved.

“The public still has some doubts,” said Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chen Ken-te (陳根德), who presided over the meeting. “Let’s review it [the bill] another day, when everyone is clear about its contents.”

The bill was proposed by seven legislators representing districts in Taoyuan County, including Chen.

Chen issued the ruling after several lawmakers, from the KMT as well as the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), criticized the bill.

DPP Legislator Yeh Yi-ching (葉宜津) said that the zone’s directors, consisting of just seven to nine members, would be entitled to decide how they wanted to develop the zone.

They would also be free from other regulations, she said.

“It [the zone] is like a small kingdom,” Yeh said. “The chairman of the board would be the master of that small kingdom.”

DPP Legislator, Kuo Wen-cheng (郭玟成) also expressed disapproval.

“This is not a bill for the ‘Airport City,’ nor is it one tailored to fulfill Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) campaign promises,” Kuo said.

“You might as well change the name of the bill to the ‘Republic of Taoyuan Airport.’ We are looking at a completely independent system!” he said.

KMT Legislator Tsao Erh-chang (曹爾忠), representing districts in Matsu, also challenged the bill.

Tsao said that he was for the idea of making Taoyuan International Airport more competitive. However, the revenue generated from the airport is used to sustain 17 other domestic airports.

Once Taoyuan International Airport becomes an independent administration, transportation subsidies for the residents in the surrounding islands may be cut, he said.

“I strongly oppose it [the bill],” Tsao said. “What would other airports live on then?”

“You lawmakers from Taoyuan had better restrain yourselves,” he said.

Legislators from other counties demanded similar development plans for their hometowns.

“I suggest they erase ‘Taoyuan’ from the bill’s title,” said KMT Legislator Huang Chao-shun (黃昭順) from Kaohsiung City. “That way other airports could apply for the same law.”

The committee began reviewing the bill on Monday and had reserved only a small period for further deliberations yesterday.

However, the measure has drawn criticism from both government officials and the media.

Expecting that the bill might be passed without opposition, the KMT and DPP have both mobilized their lawmakers to attend the meeting.

The Taoyuan County government meanwhile dispatched officials to monitor the proceedings of the meeting. At times, the officials passed notes to KMT lawmakers to offer instructions on the bill.

The county government has actively sought the support of the media, as several reporters covering the Taoyuan Airport Special Zone bill said county officials had contacted them hoping to “better explain the bill.”

Meanwhile, the DPP legislative caucus held a press conference yesterday morning urging the KMT to postpone the review of the bill until the new government takes office on May 20.

“This proposal concerns 16 government bodies and at least 33 laws must be amended to make the proposal possible,” DPP legislative caucus whip William Lai (賴清德) said. “To do this, we need more careful discussion and review. And it will definitely take time. We cannot be careful enough.”

Lai said that the DPP would endorse the idea of lifting bans on foreign visitors at the airport, but there need to be enough related mechanisms.

He said that the proposal should not be passed without further discussion because it would create problems in terms of national security and other problems.

“There are still a lot of ridiculous and impractical regulations in the proposal and they need to be fixed, or Taiwan would become a wonderland for Chinese visitors since there will be a lot of opportunities, such as job vacancies, for them as long as they can set foot on Taiwan’s soil,” Lai said.

Echoing the KMT’s Tsao, DPP deputy caucus whip Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) said the proposal, once approved, would impact Taiwan’s other 17 airports.

“Taoyuan International Airport is the only one of these airports that is making a profit of approximately NT$6 billion [US$198 million] every year. Under the proposal, the airport would only have to pay NT$1.8 billion to the government,” Kuan said.

Kuan said the KMT should make sure that the proposal will not impact on government offices, airports and related industries before the new government pushes it through.