As lawmakers and government officials yesterday squared off at a meeting of the legislature’s Internal Administration Committee over proposed amendments to the “birdcage” Referendum Act (公民投票法), many Taiwanese are reminded again of the absurdity of their democratic rights being hijacked by the establishment of the Executive Yuan’s Referendum Review Committee.
While it is understandable that drafts such as lowering the threshold for the proposal, petition and passing of referendums warrant thorough debate and deliberation on the legislative floor, it is beyond comprehension that government officials still defend the existence of this committee.
The act stipulates that a referendum proposal — after completing the first stage of collecting signatures from 0.5 percent of eligible voters in the previous presidential election — must obtain approval from the committee before it can proceed to the next petition stage; to then again pass a second review before making it to the polling stations.
Considering that a number of referendums that have been proposed — in which many people invested their time and labor collecting tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of signatures — were turned down in their early stages by a handful of politicians, the committee only exists to screen people’s voices by disenfranchising their direct participation in public decisionmaking.
Despite this obvious absurdity, Executive Yuan Secretary-General Chien Tai-lang (簡太郎) was adamant yesterday that the Executive Yuan’s 21-member committee must not be abolished, stressing that it is made up of professionals who are tasked to help with the handling of referendum proposals.
However, one has to wonder what constitutes Chien’s definition of “professional” when there have been reports of committee members’ lack of attentiveness and diligence. For instance, committee meetings scheduled to review referendum proposals were called off because of the low number of members present; the committee ended up sending out e-mails instead to solicit opinions on whether public hearings should be held for the proposed referendum.
It was also revealed that the committee members are eligible for NT$4,000 to NT$8,000 for part-time work, even if the committee is not in session — a practice that is at odds with the other committees of the Executive Yuan.
So, what exactly is the purpose of the committee, when its members obviously cannot take their work seriously enough to recognize the importance of referendum proposals while wasting taxpayers’ money by failing to act in the interests of the public?
Chien also defended the committee’s existence by citing the Council of Grand Justices’ Interpretation No. 645, making it clear that the committee is not unconstitutional. However, he has distorted the grand justices’ interpretation, which ruled that the composition of the committee being proportional to political party representation in the legislature is unconstitutional, but not that the committee, per se, is constitutional.
In countries such as Switzerland, when they hold a referendum, they do so without having proposals filtered by such a committee. Why then do Taiwanese need a Referendum Review Committee to muzzle them and stand in the way of direct democracy?
The existence of the committee serves only to make a mockery of the nation’s democracy.
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