INTERVIEW: Consensus calls for legislative reform: Wang

The Legislative Yuan should always be included in the decisionmaking process when it comes to cross-strait policies, regardless of which political party is voted into the Presidential Office, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng said in an interview with staff reporter Tzou Jiing-wen of the ‘Liberty Times’ (the sister newspaper of the ‘Taipei Times’), adding that the legislature’s exclusion from such processes would only deepen distrust among the public

Mon, Nov 30, 2015 - Page 3

Liberty Times (LT): President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) was “building a bridge” on which to normalize visits between leaders from both sides of the Taiwan Strait. Do you consider this “bridge” to be steady?

Wang Jin-pyng (王金平): Everyone has their own view on whether the “bridge” is steady. When I said to look on the bright side and not take everything negatively, I meant that one should endeavor to see the silver lining of a cloud and act upon it. As the saying goes: “To meet someone projects some sincerity” (見面三分情). Having established a precedent enables future leaders to follow suit when the need arises.

The majority of the public’s discontent stems from a lack of trust. People wish for more transparency in policymaking, want to make their opinions known and hope for their opinions to be acted on.

I think the only way the “bridge” could become more stable is to provide more public support, and this can be achieved through the full participation of the Legislative Yuan in all stages of the decisionmaking process, as the legislature is the embodiment of public will.

No matter which party is voted into the Presidential Office, the legislature must be a part of policymaking, or this “bridge” will forever live in the shadow of public distrust.

LT: Do you think that with the legislature’s participation, the interpretation of the so-called “1992 consensus” as the “one China” principle could have been avoided [in the Ma-Xi meeting] and thus resolved Taiwan’s internal confrontations?

Wang: Under normal circumstances in Taiwan, as long as one says the complete phrase — that “the 1992 consensus refers to to ‘one China, different interpretations’” — the majority of the public would not make too big a deal about it. However, if one departs from the complete description, there is no end to the commentary, as different interpretations of the “consensus” would be criticized and attacked. That is the way it is.

LT: How should the legislature be integrated into the decisionmaking process? What measures should be set up?

Wang: The legislature’s participation in decisionmaking processes is not just a matter of human participation, but also of systemic integration.

The “cross-strait affairs division” I proposed in the past is a part of that systemic integration.

Cross-strait issues are unique and have always been controversial to the Taiwanese public, but if it is possible to establish a platform and to provide a legal basis through which the legislature can participate and oversee the process, it would not only clarify the roles of the executive and legislative branches, but also allow for the public to demand due responsibilities from the respective branches of the government.

However, that is not to say that the issue of public distrust would be instantaneously solved after the system is set up. The rebuilding of trust is dependent on the attitude of those in power. Take US President Barack Obama’s reinstating of diplomatic ties with Cuba, for example. For the entire initial phase of that process, Obama had kept the US secretary of state and the head of US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations completely in the dark.

In short, the system is designed to be followed and implemented by people within the system, but without the system, the legislature has no capability to implement oversight powers over the administrative power of the government.

With the system in place, the public would have leverage to enter the decisionmaking process.

For example, protests against the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) and the cross-strait service trade accord could have been avoided if the Legislative Yuan had a cross-strait affairs division to which the Executive Yuan and the Mainland Affairs Council would make periodic reports.

The reports would, to a degree, allow the pubic to learn about negotiations and what is being discussed, giving the government sufficient time to interact with the public on controversial points. The mechanism would allow the government to follow public expectation trends and would keep the public informed on what the government is up to.

LT: The issue of legislative oversight has received significant attention after the Ma-Xi meeting. What are your thoughts on how to improve such capabilities for the legislature?

Wang: The leaders of all the legislative caucuses have made proposals for legislative reforms as of late. From the issue of cross-strait affairs we can see that the oversight system in place is incapable of meeting the public’s needs.

The legislature’s capabilities must be reconsidered from the perspective of society’s expectations. I think the public is expecting the Legislative Yuan to enact reforms and to uplift the quality of democracy, and the most important step toward fulfilling such expectations is to expand the legislature’s ability to oversee and ensure that policy quality and effectiveness continue to improve.

While pundits often prioritize their focus on the legislative reforms to be enacted based on the effectiveness of legislative discussions and the talks between political parties, I feel these are background items that are not as pressing.

Reforms need to start from ensuring a healthy committee system that functions as intended, primary among which is the further fleshing out of the legislature’s oversight powers, and the need to establish the legislature’s powers to pull data from legislative meetings.

These powers would be used primarily in severe controversies, so that all voices could be heard in open debate.

The existing legal basis for cross-caucus negotiations was implemented in 1999 by then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislative speaker Liu Sung-fan (劉松藩).

Despite multiple amendments, at their core, negotiations were never intended to take place during plenary sessions, but rather in meetings of each legislative committee to fully discuss legislation and to review budgets before forming a consensus to be voted on in plenary sessions.

The role of the legislative speaker was not intended to stand out as much as it does now. Unfortunately, the fighting between the pan-green and pan-blue camps has only intensified over the years, causing the Legislative Yuan to turn into the arena in which both political parties flex their muscles.

Once any piece of legislation enters a committee, it is subject to the will of the party to which the convener of that committee belongs, creating a quagmire in which it is difficult to have any policy debates.

The result is that committees are forced to send proposed legislation to closed-door discussions among the caucuses, and if discussions fail and they are put to a vote, the voting devolves into protests that prevent the process from coming to fruition.

The committee hearing system is vastly different than the current questioning system. Transcripts from the questioning system cannot be used as the basis for the discussion of issues, and officials can evade controversial topics or refuse to provide policy information.

However, by legalizing committee hearing procedures, we could use legislative hearings to pull transcripts and other materials and call for individuals to answer questions, effectively forcing executive and legislative branches to focus on a policy’s content, thus returning to professionalism.

LT: What will legalizing committee hearing procedures do to change the current situation?

Wang: Take the cross-strait service trade accord for example. The public was distrustful of the choices given to them, which were drafted by the executive branch, while the nation’s political parties were also divided.

If the Legislative Yuan had a healthy system allowing for committee hearings, it could have forced the executive branch to provide specific and detailed data to be discussed by the committees and the public to achieve a consensus.

The important part is that the process through which such a consensus was arrived at would have been completely transparent and would have allowed for direct participation by the public. There would have been no worries about having unfavorable policies forcibly approved by political parties with a majority in the legislature, or that groups could lobby a few committee members and control the legislation’s fate.

Over the past few years, cross-strait policies have failed to garner majority support and doubts over the policies have caused a significant waste of national resources.

If the Legislative Yuan had a cross-strait affairs division and was given the power to hold committee hearings, it would then be able provide viable solutions to solve standing conflicts and, more importantly, allow the public to participate in the decisionmaking process.

Our democracy must have the capability to reach a consensus to avoid having a system that becomes an excuse over which political parties fight, which in essence would turn the Legislative Yuan into a rubber stamp body. This is something the public will not agree to.

LT: If this is the case, why has nothing been done in that regard for all these years?

Wang: I have on multiple occasions tried to stress the importance of the committee hearing system in the legislature since the Judicial Yuan’s Council of Grand Justices released Constitutional Interpretation No. 585 in December last year, and I have said that developed democratic countries, regardless of whether they use a Cabinet system, a presidential system or a semi-presidential system, have all elected to use a committee hearing system.

However, over the past decade, amid the transfers of power between the Democratic Progressive Party and the KMT, both have passively refused to implement the committee hearing system, due perhaps to convenience for the government. Their representatives have even refused to show up at my consulting sessions, effectively grinding the system’s implementation to a halt.

It is rare for the consensus to be reached that a legislature should implement reforms, so we must take advantage. In the new legislature [following the Jan. 16 elections], we should listen to the opinions of parties, legislators and civic groups and commit to our jobs.

I believe that through the professionalism of committees’ reviews and the civic participation of the committee hearings, the Legislative Yuan would be able to make the policy decisionmaking process more transparent.

Translated by Jake Chung, staff writer