Infrastructure Program: Protesters call for halt to review of development plan

By Abraham Gerber  /  Staff reporter

Tue, Jul 04, 2017 - Page 3

Demonstrators and civic campaigners yesterday held separate protests against the government’s Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program, demanding a halt to the final review of the plan’s enabling articles.

Hundreds of people mobilized by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) rallied outside the Legislative Yuan early in the morning, gathering around signs bearing the names of Taipei, New Taipei City and Keelung districts while listening to speeches by KMT officials and lawmakers.

Demonstrators shouted slogans accusing the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of bankrupting the nation for its own benefit, throwing eggs, water balloons and old shoes at effigies of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and Premier Lin Chuan (林全) before beginning a march around the Legislative Yuan complex.

“The DPP is wasting NT$880 billion [US$28.9 billion] instead of spending it where it is needed,” newly elected KMT caucus convener Lin Te-fu (林德福) said.

“This should not be an area where the DPP forces its own way,” KMT interim chairman Lin Junq-tzer (林政則) said, adding that the program’s railway projects — which are to cost more than half the budget — have not undergone a thorough review.

“We are not opposed to infrastructure development, but we are opposed to pork-barrel spending,” KMT caucus deputy secretary-general Lee Yen-hsiu (李彥秀) said, urging lawmakers to use regular budgetary procedures to review the railway projects.

Special articles would exempt the projects from normal budgetary rules, including debt issuance limits.

“We cannot stay silent and let people say that the KMT is weak,” said Lin Hsing-er (林杏兒), deputy chairwoman of the KMT’s Taipei branch, adding that the plan predominantly funds projects in municipalities controlled by the DPP.

KMT caucus secretary Lin Wei-chou (林為洲) said that 80 percent of railway spending would be go to Taoyuan, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung, which are all governed by DPP politicians.

“The DPP cut the pensions of civil servants and teachers who sacrificed their lives for the nation — how can it waste all this money?” former KMT Taipei city councilor Wang Cheng-de (王正德) said.

Lo Ying-cheng (羅英徵), a retired soldier from Taipei, said that he was at the rally to protest the program’s wastefulness.

“The government is not using the money for something needed like disaster relief — it is benefiting corporations by ordering projects that are going to end up collecting dust,” he said.

Without further public hearings the DPP’s actions would amount to “democratic dictatorship,” he said.

Meanwhile, several campaigners affiliated with the Economic Democracy Union and other civic groups gathered outside the Legislative Yuan’s side gate, calling for the final review to be put on hold to allow lawmakers to review their proposal — the civil society version — alongside the DPP’s bill.

“The DPP’s promise to pass the enabling legislation by Wednesday and send the budget to the Legislative Yuan by Thursday is extremely disrespectful of the democratic process — they are effectively treating our opinions like hot air,” publisher and former national policy adviser Rex How (郝明義) said.

The campaigners said that KMT Legislator Jason Hsu (許毓仁) had agreed to table their bill along with the signatures of more than 15 lawmakers from the KMT, the New Power Party (NPP) and the People First Party, adding that he would propose the bill as an amendment to make sure it is discussed before the review is completed.

Hsu Po-jen (許博任) said he respected Jason Hsu’s decision and urged the DPP to suspend the final review so the civil group’s proposal could also be reviewed by the committee.

“The entire structure of our bill is very different from the DPP’s version, because we are laying a framework on how similar special infrastructure spending should be handled — not just allowing one-time exceptions. Because of this, allowing our bill to be reviewed by the committee and then be discussed alongside the DPP’s bill would be more ideal than proposing it as an amendment,” he said, adding that committee review could improve the bill by removing potential defects.

Jason Hsu said that unlike the DPP’s bill, the civil society version would subject the special infrastructure spending to the Budget Act (預算法), ban zone expropriation and require projects to pass environmental and land use review prior to the allocation of funds.

The NPP refused to sponsor the bill drafted by campaigners.

“We were clear with civic groups from the beginning — it is extremely improbable that we would cosponsor a resolution along with KMT legislators, so the specific proposal will not list us as sponsors, even though we signed the petition to get it tabled,” NPP Executive Chairman Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) said, adding that the party caucus had proposed its own version.

“Given the structure of the legislature, it is inevitable that we will look to the KMT for help and that is healthy in terms of keeping the DPP accountable — after all this is an issue of domestic governance,” Hsu Po-jen said.

Additional reporting by CNA