The hits just keep on coming.
If Typhoon Morakot was not a sufficiently traumatizing experience for the land and people of central and southern Taiwan, and if the central government’s indifference to the environmental destruction and death toll was not enough to induce general rage among victims, then the Cabinet’s clumsy draft legislation for reconstruction could make up the gap.
There is no question that reconstruction work and planning must begin immediately, especially given that the arrival of more typhoons or heavy rain this summer would threaten damaged and exposed communities. But this does not justify a bad draft law that threatens to empower the very bureaucrats whose mistakes and sloth resulted in unnecessary losses and disempower victims who have suffered enough already.
The devil is in the detail — or lack thereof: The legislation would override so many laws, including environmental impact legislation, that it is extremely unclear how the interests of the environment and the people who live in affected areas would be met or compensated.
This pervading lack of clarity spells real trouble: Without a detailed statement on which government agency is responsible for what and to what extent, an increase in state power over land and local people fuels the specter of feuding between central and regional governments, between and within Cabinet agencies and between ordinary people and government officials everywhere.
Worse, despite a solid suggestion from the Democratic Progressive Party, the legislation does not require planners to consider the opinions of affected communities, Aboriginal or otherwise.
Mountain-dwelling Aboriginal people are likely to be the biggest losers. For more than 100 years, Japanese and Chinese governments have moved these villages closer to plains areas so that they could be better governed and controlled; in many cases these people were moved into the plains while still being administratively defined as “mountain Aborigines.” All throughout, Han officials took over management of most of the land for forestry, agricultural and tourism purposes, among others, frequently to the environment’s detriment.
Supporting this line of thinking are racists and speculators who want Aboriginal reservation laws repealed so that the land can be bought up, developed and sold; and Buddhist charity officials, whose otherwise faultless conduct has been stained by asking the largely Christian Aboriginal community to “return the mountains and forests to Mother Nature.”
Sadly, the present crop of Aboriginal legislators cannot be trusted to defend the interests of affected Aboriginal communities on matters of this gravity — and certainly not Non-Partisan Solidarity Union Legislator May Chin (高金素梅), who is essentially an ambassador for Beijing — and even in the unlikely event that they mobilize to defend their constitutents, in all probability they will be ignored by party bosses.
In 2007, then-presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) infamously told an urban Aboriginal community that although he considered them to be human, they needed to better understand how to exist in the modern world. With this kind of attitude on show at the Presidential Office, and with cement companies, land developers and the like licking their lips at the prospects of massive new amounts of funding for urban reconstruction projects at the expense of viable rural resettlement, Typhoon Morakot may yet exact a more devastating toll — an acceleration of the destruction of Aboriginal culture and communities, courtesy of a brutally dim-witted and remote government that does not have the first clue about the principles of participation and consultation.
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