A mechanism for legally binding hearings should be established to ensure people’s rights would be protected in ongoing and future urban renewal projects across the country, legal experts and lawmakers said yesterday.
“Establishing such a mechanism is important. The Council of Grand Justices’ Interpretation No. 709 provides the way for making hearings mandatory for all urban renewal projects,” lawyer Tsai Chih-yang (蔡志揚) told a public hearing at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei yesterday.
The public hearing, organized by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators Yu Mei-nu (尤美女) and Chen Chieh-ju (陳節如), discussed the necessity of such a mechanism after the interpretation, issued in April, declared that the absence of government-organized hearings in various controversial urban renewal projects was unconstitutional.
Those urban renewal cases had drawn controversies and protests in the past year partly because residents in the renewal areas who refused to participate in the projects complained that they were either ill-informed, uninformed or forced to participate because a majority of the residents agreed to the renewal.
Under the Urban Renewal Act (都市更新條例), developers and local governments are only required to hold non-legally binding public hearings (公聽會), which “gather public opinions” and in which everyone could participate, but not hearings (聽證會), in which participants are limited to stakeholders and administrative orders reached are legally binding.
The entire mechanism, including who should organize the hearings, when they should be held — right after the announcement of the renewal project or at the time when the case is being reviewed by a panel under local governments — and who should participate in the hearings, should be thoroughly discussed and finalized, Tsai said.
Lawyer Cheng Wen-lung (鄭文龍) said the urban renewal project system and process should be overhauled, adding that hearings should be held in the Legislative Yuan and all disputes should go to civil rather than administrative courts, since it usually takes several years for cases to be resolved in the latter.
Several essential points have been ignored by the grand justices, Cheng said.
“The current review process has failed to address the question of whether a renewal project is necessary and benefits the public, because local governments and developers can make unilateral decisions. Neither does it protect the rights of those who refuse to participate in the project,” Cheng said.
Those who refuse to participate should be given other options by the government to protect their properties and assets, he added.
The council’s interpretation was also “absurd” in demanding the Ministry of the Interior review and correct related legislation within one year before those laws are automatically declared illegitimate, he said.
“I do not understand how you can say a piece of legislation is constitutional now, but it would be unconstitutional one year from now,” Cheng said.