Penghu residents reluctant to sign for casino referendum

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sun, May 17, 2009 - Page 2

Although the Penghu County Government considers construction of casino resorts there an important policy objective, the plan may be postponed because an insufficient number of signatures have been collected to hold a referendum.

The Legislative Yuan passed amendments to the Offshore Islands Development Act (離島建設條例) in January that would allow construction of casinos on the islands if more than 50 percent of the locals agree to it in a referendum.

While many local governments expressed interest in building casinos, Penghu County has been the most active.

Earlier this year, Penghu County Commissioner Wang Chien-fa (王乾發) said that the county would hold a referendum next month and start reviewing investment plans from interested parties, and — if everything went smoothly — casino resorts would begin operation in 2013.

While the plan was hailed by many residents such as Wang and Non-Partisan Solidarity Union Legislator Lin Pin-kuan (林炳坤), others have voiced concerns over negative impacts that large-scale casino resorts may bring.

However, only weeks away from the month when the referendum was to be held, the county’s Civil Affairs Bureau director, Chang Jui-tung (張瑞棟), was quoted by the ­Penghu-based newspaper Penghu Times as saying yesterday that an insufficient number of signatures have been collected to hold the referendum.

The Referendum Act (公民投票法) stipulates that a county-level referendum must first be proposed along with signatures from 0.5 percent of the number of people who voted in the last county commissioner election — which is 352 people in Penghu’s case.

The proposal threshold was easily crossed when the Penghu Chamber of Commerce submitted 505 signatures in February.

In the second stage, a petition with signatures from 5 percent of the number of people who voted in the last county commissioner election — 3,521 in Penghu’s case — must be submitted for the referendum to take place.

While both Chang and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Penghu County Councilor Hu Sung-jung (胡松榮) declined to reveal the number of signatures collected at the moment, Hu said that “it will be impossible to hold the referendum in June and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be held any time soon.”

“The county government should be more active in mobilizing people to sign the petition so that the problem can be resolved,” Hu said.

On the other hand, Democratic Progressive Party County Councilor Yang Yao (楊曜) disagreed.

“Whatever the situation is, the county government should remain neutral and respect whatever Penghu residents decide to do,” he said.