Ranking of rail projects urged to help finances

By Sean Lin  /  Staff reporter

Wed, Sep 13, 2017 - Page 3

Observers yesterday called on Premier William Lai (賴清德) to lighten the financial burden on future generations by ranking Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program projects involving rail construction and withholding funds allocated for less urgent rail projects.

Rail construction has been the most controversial of the eight categories of the infrastructure plan, with most people saying they are against such items, former National Youth Commission minister Jack Lee (李允傑) told a forum at the legislature in Taipei, citing opinion polls conducted by foundations and media outlets.

Despite the budget for the first stage of the infrastructure program being passed by lawmakers last month, the Executive Yuan is yet to approve 23 of the 38 rail construction projects, which have a combined estimated cost of more than NT$1 trillion (US$33.3 billion), including complementary funds to be allocated by local governments, Lee said.

Lee called on Lai to treat funds allocated for rail construction with the same expediency as he had shown in budgets when he was Tainan mayor by withholding funds approved for projects that are bound to incur debt and unlikely to improve public transportation.

Lai vowed to lead a “pragmatic” Cabinet, and the first thing he should do to fulfill that pledge is to prioritize the 23 projects and abolish those that are unlikely to yield positive results, Lee said. This would alleviate the financial burden on future generations, as the infrastructure program has a special budget that involved the government borrowing from taxpayers.

During Lai’s first term as Tainan mayor, he formed a constructive relationship with then-premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), who is now chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), with Lai frequently traveling from Tainan to Taipei to attend Cabinet meetings, Lee said. Wu granted most of Lai’s requests for Cabinet assistance in projects contracted out by the Tainan City Government.”

This relationship revealed the possibility of ending the bitter rivalry between the pan-blue and pan-green camps, he said, adding that this contrasted the tense and acrimonious atmosphere at the legislature when the infrastucture plan’s budget was being reviewed last month.

Lee urged Lai to be prudent about handing out funds for projects, as it is likely to be his main job, and would determine the relationship between the Cabinet and the legislature.

Tamkang University professor of banking and finance Lee Wo-chiang (李沃牆) questioned the premier’s ability to revitalize the economy — one of Lai’s primary objectives — citing the potentially enormous debt the infrastructure plan could incur, as well as bleak economic outlooks.

London-based Standard Chartered Bank last month forecast that economic growth would shed some momentum in the second half, with the slowdown likely to continue next year, Lee said.

Economic growth this year is expected to be less than 2 percent, he said.

He called on Lai to promptly propose amendments to the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) to mitigate the effects of the “one fixed day-off, one flexible rest day” workweek, which has driven up the cost of living, as well as personnel costs for industries, negatively affecting the economy.

Taiwan Competitiveness Forum director-general Pan Chien-kuo (龐建國) accused the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration of pandering to Japan, as a substantial portion of rail systems would reportedly be contracted out to Japanese firms.

With even Taipei’s metro system struggling to generate profits from its ridership alone, it is obvious that the rail construction projects were forced through without considering the self-liquidating ratio of rail systems, Pan said.

“If these actions are not shameless, I do not know what is,” he said.