Saturday, July 29, 2006

Public Land Policy Debate

One of the most important debates taking place at the current conference on sustainable development for Taiwan, headed up by Premier Su, is the debate over the status of public lands.

Delegates attending a financial panel yesterday engaged in heated discussion over how to dispose of state-owned land, with environmentalists pulling out all stops urging the reversal of decisions made at preparatory meetings.

Chen Man-li (陳曼麗), director of the National Union of Tai-wanese Women's Association, demanded that the government improve its state-land management mechanism, as historic buildings have been destroyed in the process of land development.

She said that state land, which belongs to the public, must not be used by government to facilitate private business development.

Her suggestion resulted in related decisions being put on hold until government agencies have the time to conduct further studies.

Sam Lin (林聖崇), head of the Ecology Conservation Alliance, urged the government to immediately cease the auctioning off or renting out of state land and suggested that the land be allocated to local governments for the establishment of national parks.

For example, parcels of land totaling 58,000 hectares owned by state-run Taiwan Sugar Corp should be retrieved for ecological purposes, he said.

Wild at Heart, the great Taiwan environmental blog, recently chronicled just such as case of how transfer of land from the state-owned firm Taiwan Sugar affected local ecologies:

The proposed development is an expansion of the Central Taiwan Science Park (中部科學工業區) into Ci-sing Farm (七星農場), a rolling meadow in the south of the town, owned by Taiwan Sugar Corporation (台灣糖業公司) and rented out along the periphery to a few small-scale vegetable and honey farmers. In recent years, the town has made a successful transition from simple agricultural production to becoming an agricultural distribution center with buyers located throughout the country. However, after the approval in February of a development for semiconductor facilities at Houli Farm in the north of the town, which was followed quickly by the initial review for the second part of the Science Park development at Ci-sing, residents began to hold meetings to discuss the potential health, environmental and social effects of the industry that threatened to transform their town.

The issue of public land use not only has implications for economic development and environmental issues, it also goes deep into Taiwan history and the long-running struggle between the indigenous people and colonial outsiders:

[Forty Aboriginal tribal chiefs yesterday made a plea at a public hearing for the return of lands transferred to Taiwan Sugar Corp under KMT rule.]

"The land historically has belonged to us," said Aaung Nouw Ay Jiyeuss, an Amiss spokesperson. "The Taiwan Sugar Corp received the land from the outside forces who came and took away our land without seeking our consent."

Jiyeuss was referring to the Japanese colonial period from 1895 to 1945 during which tribal peoples were forced to live in mountainous areas.

The colonial government appropriated thousands of hectares of tribal land in order to exploit forest, mineral and agricultural resources.

"When the KMT came to Taiwan in 1949, it received the lands from the Japanese and continued the occupation and exploitation of them by claiming them as government property," said Aaung Nouw Ay Jiyeuss.

Amiss elders present said that as a result, tribal peoples were forced to abandon their land and to live in mountainous areas.

Huang Jorn-hun (黃哲宏), vice president of Taiwan Sugar Corp, said that "the company is willing to negotiate over the matter, though the fact remains that it did gain ownership of the land in accordance with the law."

However, the Amiss disagreed.

"We don't recognize Taiwan Sugar Corp's ownership of the land because the law has been created according to the values of the Han people which have neither incorporated nor acknowledged Aborigines," Aaung Nouw Ay Jiyeuss said.

Taiwan Sugar is the descendent of four Japanese sugar firms taken over by the KMT when it came into possession of Taiwan in 1945. Under Japanese rule the companies controlled 40% of the land and operated private railroads with thousands of miles of track.

The flip side of the complicated land issues is the large amount of illegal occupation of public land. Everyone has noticed people using public land such as parks and roads for their own private purposes -- parking vehicles, operating stands, or drying food and clothing. This habit of thought is also reflected in widespread illegal occupation of public property:

Many public properties have been occupied without due compensation, a situation that has seen little improvement over the years, according to a legislative report released recently.

The report, prepared by the legislature's budget center, noted that the total surface area of public real estate that is currently being illegally occupied amounts to the surface area of nine Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall parks.

The land and residences at issue belong to various state-run enterprises whose annual budget must be approved by the legislature.

The lawmaking body will not review their spending budgets until next spring, as the central government's budget will dominate the current session.

According to the legislative budget center, Taiwan Sugar Corp has tracts of land totaling 1.2 million square meters being illegally occupied.

That accounts for 60 percent of the 2.14 million square meters of public real estate being illegally occupied altogether, the report shows.

Taiwan Power Company and Land Bank of Taiwan rank at second and third, respectively.

The former has yet to take back land properties of 170,000 square meters, while the latter has some 110,000 square meters of land being illegally occupied, the report says.

In addition, Chinese Petroleum Corp tops others in having the biggest number of buildings being illegally occupied.

A total of 275 residences in its possession have yet to be turned over to the gas company, even though their leases have expired, the budget center notes.

Taiwan Sugar Company comes second with 277 of its buildings being illegally occupied, trailed by Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Company, which has 260 buildings being illegally occupied in this way, the legislative report indicates.

Exacerbated by the problem of the lack of law enforcement on the island:

It notes that in some cases, the court has reaffirmed their ownership of certain properties, but the government-owned companies have been hesitant to evict the occupants.

Land policy is one of the most important determinants of the shape of Taiwanese life.


CJB said...

Hey Michael, I enjoy your blog and I've found your sites on Taiwan invaluable resources to living here.

I've been working on a blog I think is pretty decent called the Tainan Don; the most recent post is comparing Taiwanese media coverage with old chinese forms of punishment (ritual humiliation cultural revolution style etc.)

hope you can check it out and link to it on your site...thaks a lot

Anonymous said...

Wang earned his 12th win with the Yankees....In a shutout!!!What do you thinK?....Its a Taiwanese Pride, you know.

Michael Turton said...

I'm a fan of American football, sorry.


Anonymous said...

c' is America's favorite pastime, and Wang is a source of pride for Taiwan.....And since you "love" Taiwan so much, shouldn't you pay a little attention to it, shouldn't you?

Michael Turton said...

Hmmmm....with logic like that, maybe you can prove that Socrates is a cat.


Anonymous said...

"Hmmmm....with logic like that, maybe you can prove that Socrates is a cat."
......How rude are you, Michael

Michael Turton said...

If you hadn't put "love" in quotes, I wouldn't have called you on your rudeness. If you don't want people to address you rudely, why did you do it to them? It's good that Wang is achieving professional success, but I have absolutely no interest in professional baseball.