Parties trade barbs over flooding

SELF-DEFENSE::Deputy Minister of the Interior Hsiao Chia-chi rebutted accusations by local governments that his knowledge of flood prevention was not up to scratch

By Chris Wang and Loa Iok-sin  /  Staff reporters

Fri, Sep 06, 2013 - Page 3

The war of words over the flooding damage caused by Tropical Storm Kong-Rey in southern parts of the country last week continued yesterday, with the two main political parties, local and central governments criticizing each other’s flood prevention efforts.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Minister of the Interior Lee Hung-yuan (李鴻源) accused local governments of negligence in their preparations, with Ma saying on Wednesday at the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) Central Standing Committee meeting that local governments’ annual budget allocation for sewer system construction was “horrible.”

Lee has blasted local governments in the past week for their “slow response” to the flooding, saying that asking for a bigger flood-prevention budget would not resolve the problem.

Political observers suspect that those comments were directed at the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), as the cities and counties that suffered the most from flooding — Greater Tainan and Greater Kaohsiung, as well as Yunlin, Chiayi and Pingtung counties — are all governed by the DPP.

Citing past achievements in flood prevention during the DPP administration, including an eight-year, NT$80 billion (US$2.7 billion) project, the DPP fired back at the KMT yesterday, reiterating that a proposed six-year, NT$60 billion follow-up project would be necessary and that the Ma administration has only been offering lip service and relegating responsibility to local governments.

A six-year, NT$63.5 billion budget proposal by the Ministry of Economic Affairs was rejected by Ma on Wednesday, the third time the proposal had been sent back, DPP spokesperson Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲) told a news conference yesterday.

The project would be essential for keeping residents in central and southern Taiwan free from threat of flooding, Lin said, adding that about NT$160 billion was spent on flood-prevention construction in the Greater Taipei area and Ma should not ignore the needs of those who live outside Taipei.

Ma’s comments on the sewer system also showed that he was “horrible” at national affairs because its construction was coordinated by the central government, Lin said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Minister of the Interior Hsiao Chia-chi (蕭家淇) rebutted accusations by local governments that his knowledge of flood prevention was lacking and urged local officials to refrain from using emotional language and put more effort into building storm drain systems in urban areas.

Hsiao made the remarks during a press conference at the ministry while responding to strong criticisms made during the KMT committee meeting on Wednesday after he said that Nantou, Taitung, Yunlin, Chiayi, and Pingtung counties had all failed to build effective underground storm drainage, possibly contributing to floods in urban areas following recent heavy rainfall.

Reacting to Hsiao’s criticism, Taitung County Public Work Bureau director Hsu Jui-kui (許瑞貴) called Hsiao “idiotic” and accused him of “misleading Ma,” adding that Hsiao should “jump into the ocean.”

“It wouldn’t help to solve the problem if I jump into the ocean, it may make it worse because the sea level may go up,” Hsiao told reporters. “Emotional language doesn’t help, the point is that local governments should expend more effort in completing underground storm drain systems in urban areas.”

Hsiao said that, having served as the deputy mayor of Taichung for 11 years, he understands the mindset of local officials very well.

“Most local governments would invest budget for flood-prevention projects in the mountains or in rural areas, because these projects are visible, while underground storm drain systems in urban areas are not, and could upset local people when construction work affects roads,” Hsiao said. “However, invisible infrastructure is important, because it can prevent urban areas from being flooded during heavy rainfall.”

Some local officials have complained that the central government is not giving them enough money for flood prevention, Hsiao said.

“But we only give local governments a budget for fundamental infrastructure and it’s up to the local governments to decide how they use the budget,” he said.

Hsiao said that while he will not interfere with how local governments want to spend the money, he would strongly urge them to spend more on storm drain systems.

According to official figures, while each of the four counties received about NT$1 billion for infrastructure construction last year. Nantou spent NT$2.7 million, Taitung NT$3.5 million, Chiayi NT$4 million, Yunlin NT$5 million and Pingtung NT$9 million building urban storm drainage systems.