Morakot: Ma Ying-jeou’s idea of land restoration?
When asked by ITV correspondent, Ma Ying-jeou blamed the victims for not evacuating. In fact, the worst hit village, Hsiao-lin, did evacuate but the places they were supposed to go to in the evacuation plan were also affected by the flood and mudslides. So those who made to these places were still in great danger. As Hsiao-lin had been identified as one of the areas sensitive to floods and landslides, if the residents had been relocated by the government before, this tragedy could have been prevented.
Perhaps as a valiant attempt to save his public image, Ma Ying-jeou brought up the prevention for future mudslides and how humans cannot overpower the nature both in an interview with Economics Daily News on 14 August and in his international press conference on 18 August. The Ministry of the Interior will put forward a draft national land planning act which would incorporate a package of land restoration in a month. While the idea itself sounds reasonable, Taipei Times pointed out that a proposal like this was already put together years ago by the DPP administration but was smeared and totally blocked by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) dominated parliament at the time.
The DPP idea
Indeed, after Typhoon Mindulle hit Taiwan and caused floods in July 2004, the then Premier, Yu Shyi-kun, under the DPP administration asked the Council for Economic Planning and Development to get expert assessments and report on the problem. Scientists identified a combination of factors that contributed to the severe damage. The more proximate causes were found to be the geological structure loosened by the devastating 921 Earthquake and climate change in recent years. The underlying and ultimate causes were actually the overuse and abuse of land for agricultural or business development as well as poor forest management in the mountains, land strategies employed by the Chinese Nationalist Party throughout the 60s to the 90s.
As the geological structures were damaged by the earthquake and inappropriate land use, there was a need to survey all the land and identify unstable structures and sensitive areas. Taipei Times reported on 13 July 2004:
The Cabinet is drafting a special bill to ban land development, road construction or repair, farming or residence in certain areas in the wake of the devastating flooding caused by Tropical Storm Mindulle, which killed 29 people and left 12 others missing.
“We’re thinking of adopting a two-pronged approach. In addition to cutting down on or outlawing land development in mountain, coastal and flood-prone areas, we’d offer incentives to residents living in such areas to encourage them to relocate or to sell those lands to the government,” Premier Yu Shyi-kun told reporters yesterday afternoon.
Minister without Portfolio Lin Sheng-feng said that Yu has ordered a team of experts to pre-sent a preliminary report about the damage and propose alternative plans in two weeks and a more comprehensive report within three months.
“We don’t want to spend a lot of money to build an infrastructure which lasts for only a few years or cannot withstand another natural disaster as powerful as Mindulle,” Lin said.
One reconstruction project put on hold was the Central Cross Island Highway. The 25km highway segment was about to be reopened early July 2004 but when Mindulle hit, it was damaged once more with falling rocks, landslides and mudflows. As Taipei Times reported on 6 August 2004:
“We have spent about NT$1.3 billion repairing roads damaged by the Sept. 21 earthquake in 1999 and NT$750 million on land conservation,” Premier Yu Shyi-kun told reporters yesterday in Chiufen.
“The damage caused by Mindulle may cost between NT$4.5 billion and NT$9.2 billion for road repairs, NT$750 million for land and water conservation and NT$10.5 billion for fixing damaged reservoirs and equipment at hydroelectric plants,” Yu said. “We’d waste more of the taxpayers’ money if we don’t decide to put it [road repair] off now.”
To address these problems and make any future development sustainable, the DPP administration proposed a draft national land planning act and a draft national land restoration act following the expert assessments. Under the framework of the draft land planning act, the government would identify all the fragile structures and ban constructions in those areas. For those already living or farming in those areas, the draft land restoration act (later revised as the draft bill on land restoration and conservation) had both practical and financial provisions to help them move away and build new lives in areas identified as suitable for habitation and agricultural activities.
The mountainous areas
Under the DPP proposal of national land restoration, ‘farming, logging and land development on mountainous areas higher than 1,500m will be banned except for those in Aboriginal settlements’. Taipei Times reported:
The nation’s mountainous areas will be classified into three conservation zones.
Category I areas are those higher than 1,500m, where farming, logging and land development will be banned.
Farmland must be allowed to go fallow and existing buildings or facilities will have to be demolished within five to 15 years.
Certain exceptions will be allowed, however. These include Aboriginal settlements with more than 30 families, facilities for conservation, study or tourism, Aboriginal historical relics, defence facilities and public facilities.
Category II would cover mountainous areas between 500m and 1,500m. New farming or new developments will be banned, but existing legal operators will be allowed to remain.
Category III areas include mountainous areas lower than 500m. Any land developments must be based on sustainable development and local governments are required to regularly review their development policies and obtain permission from the central government for developing land.
The draft also recommends spending NT$100 billion over the next 10 years on land restoration projects.
The fund would help Aboriginal settlements that are willing to relocate in a group. The draft stipulates that the central government should find a new place for them to live and help them with employment, education and preserving their traditions and culture.
While some have argued that the bill will jeopardize the livelihoods of Aboriginal people, Chang Ching-sen, vice chairman of the Cabinet’s Council for Economic Planning and Development, said that this was a groundless accusation.
‘Statistics show that 99 percent of Aborigines live in mountainous areas lower than 1,500m,’ he said.
In addition, the government would pay the Aboriginal land owners the same amount of money they get from letting their land to farmers or buy their land. The government woule then plant trees or help land ownders do so in those areas. Mountainous areas higher than 1,500m, potential landslides and flows zones, areas within 150m from river banks and near reservoirs would be put in priority. If after a while, the land has been assessed and found to be stabilised, the government would consider developing eco friendly tourism. The DPP administration met with strong resistance from the Aboriginal groups, farmers and their associated legislators. Some attacked Chang for his tourism idea and argued that it would actually place more burdens on the roads and the land than excessive farming.
Chang refuted their accusation and explained that apart from the above provisions, the draft bill would ensure that the necessary paths would be kept or built for the Aboriginal settlements when big roads that harm the environment and the geological structure would not be allowed. He pointed out that those dangerous big roads and excessive use of the mountainous land wereactually not going to help with their development in the long run. Therefore, the government would help the Aborigines run specially designed eco friendly transport services that only the Aborigines would have the knowledge and capacity to run. The above package as a whole intended to help the Aborigines maintain their culture and lifestyles as much as possible and develop their niche at the same time.
Former Minister without Portfolio, currently Associate Professor of Architecture, Lin Sheng-feng had an article that challenged the past idea of man overpowering the nature and summarised the DPP administration’s proposal in relation to the land restoration and conservation of the mountains and the forests. He pointed out that apart from national land planning and restoration, other relevant legislations such as Forestry Law, Water Resource Development and Conservation Incentive Regulations, National Park Act and Culture Assets Preservation Act etc. also needed to be looked into.
Former vice chairman of the Cabinet’s Council for Economic Planning and Development, Chang, explained on a radio programme that similar approaches were also proposed for the coastal areas in the same bill. The government would identify areas showing land subsidence resulted from illegal groundwater extraction and embankment and coast lines damaged by pumping sea water for fish farming, the draft bill proposed that the government buy the 1/3 of fish farms that were not active and turn those areas into wetlands and detention ponds, maintained by the government. The ponds could help alleviate floods and the detained water could supply the fish farms. The sea water needed by those fish farms would be taken from the open sea and managed by the government. The affected land could also be turned into artificial islands. In addition, the government would punish those who dig wells for groundwater extraction rather than the fish farmers. As to people already living in those areas, again, the government would provide practical and financial assistance for them to relocate and/or re-train, depending on their wishes.
The KMT and pan-blue coalition sabotage
The DPP administration put the draft national land restoration legislation forward to the Parliament in 2005. The blue (mainly KMT) legislators blocked it 43 times and did not even let it through the Procedure Committee.
Any drafts and bills sent to the Parliament have to go through the Procedure Committee first. If passed, the Committee will then pass them on to the relevant Committees for discussion and review. This Committee is the gatekeeper and the membership is made up proportionate to the number of seats each political party has in the Parliament. As the blue camp always has the majority in the Parliament, they always dominate the Procedure Committee. Not letting the national land restoration proposal through the Procedure Committee meant that they did not even want a discussion on this subject in the relevant Committee(s) in the Parliament. In other words, they did not even give it a chance. This draft bill is actually not the only casualty under their ‘scorched earth policy’.
The main reason for their sabotage was probably not to give the DPP any credit or an easy ride. If floods happened again, they could just blame the DPP administration because the DPP was in charge. The majority of the people wouldn’t think about what happened in the Parliament especially with the help from the pro-KMT media. Human lives and sustainable development seemed to be secondary in their calculations.
Furthermore, the national land planning and restoration might affect those with vested interest. As the draft bill had provisions for Aboriginal residents and farmers to relocate and re-train, a lot of them gradually came around to the idea. However, there could be others such as companies that make profits from road/housing construction and reconstruction or business development and the cement processing industry etc. as Taipei Times reported:
Chen Tai-hsiung, a deputy director of the Bureau of Mines, said that the land restoration plan would be seen to have an adverse impact on the cement, iron and steel and petrochemical processing industries. He added that if the plan was implemented, Taiwan’s cement and marble processing industries would be the first to be affected, with many plants in these sectors being forced to close down because of a dearth of raw materials.
Taiwan Cement Corp, one of the country’s major cement producers, said it does NOT expect the national land restoration plan to have any immediate impact on its business operations.
A corporate source said that Taiwan Cement has taken out leases on three mine areas around the nation for the extraction of rocks for the production of cement. The leases don’t expire until 2017.
In addition, the source said, according to new extraction contracts, only 3 percent of the land is at an elevation of higher than 1,000m above sea level.
The Ma Ying-jeou administration
In 2008, after Ma Ying-jeou took office, the KMT dominated Parliament rejected the draft bill completely, citing ‘it would affect the country’s development and avoid the public scrutiny’ as reasons. Now, the Ma administration is in serious trouble for their lack of efforts and efficiency after Typhoon Morakot and Ma started talking about national land planning and restoration. It seems that anything for Ma and the KMT is just to serve their political interests only. If the DPP bill had been reviewed and passed 4 years ago, a lot could have been done and some tragedies and losses could have been avoided. Ma is now reiterating what the DPP had foreseen and started addressing, which his own party rejected completely. Has he (or have they) shown or felt any guilt, regret or remorse? While working on the draft acts and promoting the idea of national land planning, restoration and conservation, the DPP administration took a lot of heat. Any apologies to them?
I do hope that some progress could be made on the land planning and restoration. However, over the past year, Ma Ying-jeou and his administration have not shown any real vision or concern about Taiwan except actions that will speed up the annexation of Taiwan to china. Indeed, during his interview with Economic Daily News on 14 August, he was still promoting EFCA and said it looked hopeful to have it signed during the first half of 2010 (I can’t find the article online. Please refer to Talking Show on 17 August where the host showed a copy on the show). He also talked about ECFA when he met with some Taiwanese businessmen in China on 14 August. Even if they had a change of heart, they have not shown enough competence to convince me that things would be carried out properly and efficiently.
(Many thanks to Jay for drawing my attention to the radio programme and other relevant information.)