Farmers' associations are no longer organizations for farmers. At best, they are companies trading in agricultural resources and materials as well as buying, distributing and marketing processed agricultural products. For example, Pai Tien-chih (白添枝), who became a legislator-at-large for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) as an agricultural representative although he is chairman of a gravel company, said that farmers' associations were like privately owned companies, and their directors were like corporate chief executives.
According to the Farmers' Association Act (
A key demand in the May 20, 1988, demonstration by farmers was the abolishment of the selection of association directors and the return of voting rights to association members. Twenty years later, such direct elections remain a dream. The main reason is that although the commercial competitiveness of these associations has declined in the past two decades, they have fostered a large number of public officials from the local level to the central government. They have become a major political force.
For example, former legislative speaker Liu Sung-pan (劉松藩), who was elected to the legislature in 1996, fled the country after being convicted of issuing illegal loans. He had begun his political career as director of the Dajia City Farmers' Association. Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), who succeeded Liu, has had a very close relationship with the farmers' association system.
It could be very difficult to amend the law and purge the influence of the local political forces that are the reason many legislators were elected in the first place.
After the Democratic Progressive Party took power in 2000, it sought to add an anti-corruption clause to the farmers' and fishermen's association acts. After negotiations and interruptions, a compromise amendment passed in 2001.
Former Council of Agriculture chairman Chen Hsi-huang (
In 2004, then People First Party (PFP) legislator Chen Chao-jung (
Tsai recently raised the idea of voiding the anti-corruption clause again. At the time I strenuously objected, believing that one should not use farmers as an excuse to serve one's own ends.
I grew up in Changhua County's Fenyuan Township (芬園), where farmers mostly grow things like lychees and pineapples. About NT$900 million (US$27 million) of the money that farmers had saved in their associations' credit departments was repeatedly "lost" by their directors through high-risk loans.
Tsai's latest amendment, which was passed last week, removes the rule that members be stripped of their position upon losing their second appeal, and imposes the more lenient condition that their conviction must be finalized before they are discharged. It also removes any term limits.
One can see that farmers, with their industry already in desperate straits, will be pushed further toward the brink of crisis by the all-powerful association directors.
It's time for the government and all those concerned about the agricultural industry to consider whether these associations are needed. I also hope that for the sake of the real farmers, the Council of Agriculture and other government agencies will examine whether they should continue to entrust these private commercial agricultural associations with government loan and subsidy programs.
The government should strengthen the framework of its own agricultural departments instead of encouraging corruption by continuing to trust the agricultural associations, whose lack of standards is evident from their poor execution of government policy. This idea was first proposed in the 1980s. But with Taiwanese agriculture on the brink of disaster, it needs to be proposed again.
Lin Shu-fen is a Democratic Progressive Party legislator.
Translated by Lin Ya-ti and Marc Langer
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