Premier Yu Shyi-kun yesterday issued an apology for the government's failure to make good on its pledge to remove radioactive waste from Orchid Island by the end of this year.
But he hesitated to set a deadline for the Cabinet to redress the problem despite pressure from Aboriginal lawmakers, one of whom vowed to take the grievance to the constitutional court.
"I'm willing to apologize on the government's behalf for its failure to relocate radioactive waste from Orchid Island as previously prom-ised," Yu said in response to a question from Aboriginal legislator Walis Pelin (
But the premier said he could not promise when and how he would right the wrong, as related government agencies have had difficulty finding a solution.
Since 1988, the government has stored nearly 100,000 barrels of radioactive waste on the sparsely populated island and promised to remove it by the end of this year.
With the deadline approaching, Yu admitted publicly it is impossible for his Cabinet to implement the policy inherited from the KMT administration.
The premier said he has always opposed storing the waste on Orchid Island, as the government of the day did not consult residents there while formulating the policy.
"In my view, the government should promptly remove the waste without any excuse," Yu said. He pledged to try his best but refused to provide a timetable.
Yu's apologetic statements failed to pacify Aboriginal lawmakers, however. May Chin (高金素梅), another independent legislator, said she was disappointed at the premier's evasiveness.
"What's done is done," Chin said, painting a "rainbow bridge" across her face to underscore her background. "All I care about is when the government will start taking action and remove waste from Orchid Island."
She demanded the premier earmark funds for the purpose when preparing the spending plan for next year.
"My tribesmen have been fooled long enough," Chin said.
But Yu refused to be pinned down, saying, "I cannot make a promise I cannot fulfill later."
He said Taipower has sought unsuccessfully to find alternative repository sites at home and abroad over the years.
Chin suggested the premier make an apology to the scores of Aboriginal people who were visiting the legislature yesterday.
"The DPP owes its rise to power in part to the support of Aborigines," Chin said. "Now the government must not continue ignoring their plight. They are tired of living with radioactive waste."
Though expressing sympathy, the premier said he found an extra apology unnecessary. He did acknowledge that Aboriginal people have received unfair treatment over the years.
"The Cabinet is determined to reverse the longstanding situation," Yu said. "You can tell its resolve by the recent appointment of a distinguished Aborigine to head a Cabinet council."
Unconvinced, Chin said she would seek recourse with the Council of Grand Justices.
She said she was particularly upset over allegations that the Cabinet has channeled funds earmarked for cleaning up radioactive waste to other state-run entities.
Earlier, PFP Legislators Lin Chung-te (林春德) and Lin Cheng-er (林正二), both Aborigines, had voiced similar concerns.
"For a long time Aborigines have been marginalized at the workplace and within society at large," Lin Chung-te said.
He proposed introducing a rule that would confine presidential candidates to citizens whose ancestors have lived in Taiwan for 1,000 years, while Lin Cheng-er suggesting the vice presidency be open only to Aborigines.
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