The legislature — minus Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers — concluded this month’s provisional session yesterday by pushing through the controversial Farm Villages Revival Act (農村再生條例).
The legislature finalized the size of the Farm Villages Rejuvenation Fund at NT$150 billion (US$4.6 billion) after Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers negotiated among themselves. The government can file requests for the budget over a 10-year period to help the fund reach that size.
The legislature also approved a KMT caucus resolution that the Council of Agriculture (COA) can ask for an additional NT$50 billion 10 years after the fund is set up.
In accordance with the act, the fund will be spent on “farm village revival projects,” which refer to improvements of the environment of farm villages, public construction projects within the villages, renovation of individual farm houses, measures to stimulate agriculture in the villages and protection of farm village culture.
The KMT caucus had planned to pass the bill on Tuesday, but shortly after legislative staffers began the second reading of the bill on Tuesday, KMT Legislator Wong Chung-chun (翁重鈞) blocked the bill out of dissatisfaction with the caucus’ decision to reduce the fund from NT$200 billion to NT$150 billion.
Legislators across party lines had previously reached a consensus during meetings chaired by Wong to set up a NT$200 billion fund to revive farm villages.
The KMT caucus was forced to negotiate with Wong to resolve the matter. He said he believed the government must set aside more money to take care of construction projects within farm villages.
Wong, who represents a Chiayi County constituency, said he feared the bill would let residents of the county down.
He later agreed to put the bill to a second and third reading after the KMT caucus proposed an additional resolution to allow the council to request an additional NT$50 billion budget 10 years after the fund is established.
The bill had been tabled since December 2008, with the DPP and a number of civic groups accusing the KMT of using the bill to buy electoral support.
DPP legislators did not vote on the bill yesterday because the entire DPP caucus walked out of the provisional session on Friday after the legislature refused to refer the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) to an article-by-article review.
After the farm bill cleared the floor, Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Wu-hsiung (陳武雄) told a KMT caucus press conference that the act would benefit 4,000 farm villages nationwide.
Before going into recess yesterday, KMT lawmakers did not pass a proposed amendment to reform the National Health Insurance (NHI) system, but referred it to further cross-party negotiation.
The Taiwan Rural Front yesterday condemned the passage of the Farm Villages Revival Act.
“We are angry,” the group’s spokeswoman, Tsai Pei-hui (蔡培慧), told the Taipei Times by telephone. “This bill does nothing to improve the most important thing that concerns farmers — the farming and selling of agricultural produce.”
Most of the money would be spent on improving tourism infrastructure, such as biking trails, she said.
“It’s like spending money to repaint the outside of a house when the roof is leaking,” Tsai said.
She is also worried that regular agricultural budgets may be used to improve infrastructure irrelevant to agricultural production since the bill did not specify where the NT$150 billion farming villages rejuvenation fund would come from.
“And there’s no mechanism to monitor the use of the money either, leaving space for mishandling of the fund,” Tsai said.
Farmer and farmers’ rights activist Yang Ru-men (楊儒門) said it was no longer important what bills get passed.
“What’s more important is to raise awareness among farmers, and help farmers establish their own marketing channels,” Yang said. “If we farmers don’t stand up on our own, it’s hard for others to help.”
At a separate setting, DPP lawmakers urged their KMT colleagues to show restraint in passing the farm bill, saying that it needed more careful consideration.
Despite sitting out of the session, DPP Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) said the lack of consensus on the bill, even among KMT lawmakers, was the first sign that it should be studied further.
“We have many concerns on this bill and the [KMT] should not attempt to pass it without first achieving consensus,” she said, adding that a number of agricultural organizations have also raised questions about the law’s possible impact on the industry.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VINCENT Y. CHAO
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