A coalition of advocacy groups on Friday called on the government not to hold videoconferences to discuss land development projects, saying that the practice could harm the public’s right to take part in civic affairs.
Urban planning, eminent domain and environmental impact assessment hearings are among those to be held virtually by Ministry of the Interior departments, beginning this week, Environmental Rights Foundation fellow Hsu Po-jen (許博任) said.
He made the remark at a virtual news conference held jointly by the foundation, the Taiwan Human Rights Association and the Environmental Jurist Association, among others.
In making the decision, the ministry cited its wish to avoid unnecessary delays to development projects due to a COVID-19 outbreak in Taiwan, but the hearings are to be held with no consistent guidelines to ensure fairness across departments, Hsu said.
Environmental impact assessment panels allow outcalls for the public to speak at a meeting or provide live broadcasts, but they have no guidelines to avoid hearing controversial cases online, he said.
Meanwhile, the Land Expropriation Commission refrains from hearing a contested case online, but offers no mechanism for members of the public to take part in its hearings, he said.
No ministerial department has announced information about an online hearing, even a week before it was scheduled to convene, he said.
For the government to hold online public hearings, it should announce essential information about the issue ahead of time, broadcast the meeting on a public platform, allow the public to participate in real time and not hold virtual meetings on controversial issues, he said.
In addition, the government should not assume that all members of the public have access to fast and reliable Internet to watch the hearings, he said, adding that officials should be aware of the “digital gap.”
The government should write a sunset clause for virtual public hearings so that they would not be utilized after the pandemic is over, the groups cited New Power Party (NPP) Legislator Chen Jiau-hua (陳椒華) as saying in a news release.
Videoconference hearings need to have clear rules to include community members, as they and generations of their descendants could be affected by the government’s actions, NPP Legislator Chiu Hsien-chih (邱顯智) was quoted as saying.
The current form of virtual public hearings is not conducive to public participation, which could violate their legal rights, he said, adding that the hearings should cease until legal concerns are addressed.
A video allegedly featuring retired general Kao An-kuo (高安國) calling on Taiwanese military officers to surrender to China and overthrow the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government has sparked outrage and calls for him to be charged with treason. The video, titled “A message to Taiwanese military officers,” allegedly shows Kao saying: “I call on commanding officers of our military troops to stand up for Chinese nationalism, to take up this duty under heaven’s mandate to save Taiwanese from oppression and terrible suffering.” Dressed in military fatigues and a beret, the lieutenant general called on officers to overthrow the “fraudulent DPP regime,”
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