MOI chief hopes to see municipal mergers soon

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sun, Feb 22, 2009 - Page 3

Minister of the Interior Liao Liou-yi (廖了以) yesterday said he would like to see amendments to the Local Government Act (地方制度法) passed before the end of April so that city-county mergers could take place as soon as possible.

“In today’s global world, competition no longer occurs between states, but in many cases between cities,” Liao told a conference. “People may have heard of Barcelona, but they don’t necessarily know it’s in Spain. They may have heard of Frankfurt and still not know much about Germany.”

Cities in Taiwan are less competitive, however, because of unequal distribution of resources, he said.

“It’s therefore time for change,” he said, adding that the ministry would turn the 17 cities and counties in the western part of the country, from Keelung to Pingtung, into three major metropolitan regions, with Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung as hubs.

The design corresponds to President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) campaign promise to divide the country into “three prefectures with 15 counties under them.”

“The merged metropolitan centers would be allocated a lot of resources and enjoy substantial autonomy, while the hub cities would be responsible for regional development,” Liao said.

The administrative design would not necessarily be applicable to places with lower population density, such as the east and offshore islands, he said.

Liao said he hoped that amendments to the Act, which was submitted to the legislature for review in the last legislative session, could be passed before the end of April.

“I can only say that I hope the amendments will be passed by the end of April, but I’m not in a position to decide, and I fully respect the legislature’s decision,” he said.

Liao said that as elections for county and city chiefs will be held in December, potential candidates could start raising funds as early as the end of April.

“We should let them know if they ought to start preparing for the year-end election by then [April],” he said.

However, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) were uncertain as to whether the amendment could be passed in such a short timeframe.

“There’s no consensus within the [KMT] caucus. It’s not easy to reach a consensus because legislators from different constituencies have different concerns,” KMT caucus deputy secretary-general John Wu (吳志揚) said.

Asked if there was any chance the amendments would be passed by the end of April, Wu said: “I think the most important issue at the moment is to save the economy,” he said.

DPP Legislator Huang Wei-che (黃偉哲) said the DPP caucus would not oppose the government’s scheme, but added it should be planned more carefully.

“This is a big issue and I don’t think we will support its passage by the end of April,” he said.