Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tainan County/City Merger Approved

The Taipei Times reported on the surprise decision of the Executive Yuan to permit a merger of Tainan city and county this week. The article gives a good overview of the plan:
In early April, the legislature passed an amendment to the Local Government Act (地方制度法) allowing cities and counties to integrate into special municipalities, paving the way for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to deliver on his campaign promise of remapping the country into three metropolises and 15 counties and cities.

Eleven out of a total of 23 counties and cities applied to upgrade their status either alone or by merging with others.

Liu finalized the review results at yesterday’s meeting.

Aside from the Tainan proposal, Liu also endorsed the initial review last Tuesday — approving the upgrade of Taipei County to a municipal city and the mergers of Taichung County and Taichung City as well as Kaohsiung City and Kaohsiung County into municipalities, while rejecting proposals by Taoyuan County and Changhua County to be upgraded to municipalities and by Yunlin County and Chiayi County to merged into a municipality.

After the revision becomes effective next year, within 10 days of local elections in special municipalities, the current administrative borders of two special municipalities and 23 counties and cities will be redrawn into five special municipalities and 17 counties and cities.

Jiang said the redrawing of administrative districts was in line with the spirit of Ma’s plan to remap the country.

He said that the adjustment of the administrative zones could help formulate three big urban communities in northern, central, and southern Taiwan and reduce regional disparities.

“The meaning of President Ma’s ‘three metropolises and 15 counties plan’ lies in enhancing the country’s overall competitiveness and pursuing balance in regional development. How many special municipalities and counties or cities the country has after districts are remapped is not the point,” Jiang said.

The government developed the country into seven regions with each having at least one special municipality or quasi-special municipality as locomotives for development — Taipei City, Taipei County, Keelung City, and Yilan County; Taoyuan County, Hsinchu County, Hsinchu City, and Miaoli County; a merged Taichung County and City, Changhua County, and Nantou County; a merged Tainan County and Tainan City, Chiayi County, and Yunlin County; a merged Kaohsiung County and City and Pingtung County; Hualien County and Taitung County; and the islands of Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu.

Jiang said the government would use policy tools to encourage the counties and cities within a region to cooperate to promote overall development.

Minister of Finance Lee Sush- der (李述德) said the government would revise the Law Governing the Allocation of Government Revenues and Expenditures (財政收支劃分法) to ensure that each county or city, regardless of its status, obtained a bigger budget than now.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) spokesman Cheng Wen-tsang (鄭文燦) said the party welcomed the Tainan merger, but urged the government to propose an amendment to the Act Governing the Allocation of Government Revenues and Expenditures and the Administrative Division Law (行政區域劃分法) as soon as possible to equalize counties, cities with new municipal cities.
Today's Taipei Times translated a Liberty Times editorial on the problems of the process, which it saw as slapdash and unprofessional, with results rigged in advance:
The first was echoed by Taiwan Solidarity Union Chairman Huang Kun-huei (黃昆輝) when he said the upgrades were a scheme by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to pave the way for reelection in 2012. A merged Taipei City and County and a merged Taichung City and County would become stronger pan-blue camp electorates, while the pan-green camp would be able to gain power in the merged Kaohsiung and Tainan municipalities, setting up richer territories for pork-barrel politics at the next presidential election.

Mindful of the electoral importance of Taipei County, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) thinks it can kill two birds with one stone by postponing the election for Taipei County commissioner via the upgrade to stall for time in regaining lost ground in this electorate.

A combined Kaohsiung City and County, meanwhile, would be a pan-green stronghold and the pan-blue camp would have little hope of gaining power there. The KMT government did not hesitate to approve their upgrade and merger application, however, because it expects a disorganized Democratic Progressive Party to be more vulnerable to infighting over local elections.

The second problem is that the mergers and upgrades will result in the postponement of mayoral and county commissioner elections. In a democracy, the terms of democratically elected leaders and public representatives are a contract between candidates and voters that should not be broken for cynical ends.
Redrawing the boundaries of Taiwan's counties has long been high on the list of goals for reformers from both parties. As I've noted before, Taipei takes the lion's share of tax revenues -- meaning essentially that the south and east are impoverished to pay for Taipei's ability to live above its income. Whether, when the dust clears, more revenues will actually be shipped to Kaohsiung and Tainan is anyone's guess. Currently the Act Governing the Allocation of revenues calls for 43% of revenue to go to special municipalities (currently two, Taipei and Kaohsiung) and 57% to everywhere else.

At present Changhua and Yunlin/Chiayi counties are also considering upgrades -- what an irony it would be if everyone upgraded and 43% of the budget split among Kaohsiung, Tainan, Yunlin/Chiayi, Changhua, Taichung, and Taipei, leaving 57% for Taitung, Hualien, Nantou, Hsinchu, Taoyuan, Miaoli, I-lan, and the islands. That would seriously redistribute the island's wealth!

The new upgrades will result in new development and new land speculation, which will in turn bring in new monies into the pockets of officialdom. It will also result in a vast expansion of government payrolls, since a municipality has the right to employ thousands more people in the local government -- meaning new opportunities for political patronage that will help cement the grip of the party in power on the local governments. The expansion also allows for new appointees to committees and boards.

The upgrade will likely delay elections for local county/municipality chiefs, giving the KMT time to make up ground, especially in Taipei County, and to exploit the divisions in the DPP. One theory has it that the Taichung upgrade will enable the popular KMT politician Jason Hu to run again for mayor for eight more years of Hu leadership -- the corollary being that Ma supporters want to keep Hu in Taichung and out of the central government (he is sometimes mentioned as a possible premier).

UPDATE: Excellent further explanation in first comment.

Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Anonymous said...

Your analysis lacks one key point. There were mergers then upgrades to special municipalities but the upgrade didn't have to happen along with a merger. Thus, as a consequence Taipei County is the big winner in all of this. They get the upgrade in money without having to merge, ie share with anyone.

Note: this is not true of Taichung, Tainan, or Kaohsiung, which are all merging a county and city, then upgrading. Thus, they will NOT be getting a big increase in payroll. It is a very modest increase. What is significant is that they have a higher upper limit for borrowing, which means they have a one time grant to spend on some larger projects. For the new municipality to be successful, they must take that money and set themselves apart from the other cities in Taiwan.

This whole process is messed up in many ways, but Tainan was able to get the word out to the rest of Taiwan that they are an up and coming city with a lot that sets it apart (all the cool, old history but also industry too, such as green tech industries, creative industries). I think the heads of Tainan City and County just did a really excellent job of highlighting Tainan's strong points and made it very, very difficult for the central government to turn them down.

On the more conspiratorial comments: Tainan County was split for the Greens and the theory was that they would be denied so the KMT could win Tainan County. A merged Tainan City/County favors the DPP (though the KMT is competitive still, not at all like the DPP in Taipei City or Hsinchu, Miaoli, Taidong). I would say the most Machiavellian part of all this was not any one election (Taipei County or Tainan or Taichung), but to keep the North (Taipei) rich by upgrading Taipei County without requiring any merger. The North retains its tax revenue dominance in a hard to see way.

Anonymous said...

In the absence of fair taxation income distribution to the southern part of Taiwan, and for their regional interest protection, the financial officers of the southern counties should form an alliance to collect their own taxes and refuse to remit to the central government.

Readin said...

Minister of Finance Lee Sush- der (李述德) said the government would revise the Law Governing the Allocation of Government Revenues and Expenditures (財政收支劃分法) to ensure that each county or city, regardless of its status, obtained a bigger budget than now.

It seems they've finally figured out how democracy works!

Or it could be a clever move toward independence. Go as deep in the budgetary hole as the U.S., and China may rethink their desire to annex and assume all that debt.