Legislative panel has night sitting after officials absent back

The China Post staff

The Legislative Yuan’s Economic and Energy Committee broke new ground yesterday, postponing its meeting from morning to evening to accommodate to senior officials’ “busy schedule.” It was the first time in the Legislature’s history that a committee has met in the evening because of Cabinet ministers’ failure to attend its scheduled daytime session. In the past, legislative committees simply chose to cancel their scheduled meetings if relevant officials failed to show up. The delayed committee meeting opened at 600 p.m., with the presence of Minister of Economic Affairs Lin Yi-fu and Council of Agriculture Chairman Fan Chen-tsung, both of whom were absent at the morning session. Forty-seven legislators had registered to question relevant Cabinet officials over the “three links” issues during the committee’s unprecedented evening meeting.

Members of the Economic and Energy Affairs Committee from the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and the People First Party (PFP) were upset when they learned that all of the heads of the five government departments supposed to be present at yesterday’s meeting were absent. The committee had invited the top officials of the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), the Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD), the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC), the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) and the Council of Agriculture (COA) to report on the possible impact of the opening of direct “three links” across the Taiwan Strait on the island’s agricultural and economic development. None of the five officials attended the session in person. They had instead named proxies to field questions from legislators on their behalf. MOEA Minister Lin Yi-fu named his deputy, Shih Yen-hsiang, to attend the meeting as he had to stay in his office to receive Control Yuan members who were making an inspection tour of the ministry. Vice Premier Lin Hsin-i, who concurrently serves as CEPD chairman, MAC Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen and COA Chairman Fan Chen-tsung were absent, using the excuse that they were attending the weekly Cabinet meeting, while MOTC Minister Lin Ling-san was in Penghu to handle the China Airlines plane crash affairs. PFP Legislator Chiu Yi and KMT Legislator Hsu Shu-po said it was unacceptable that Cabinet ministers had absented themselves from a legislative session by using the excuse that they were attending a Cabinet meeting. They blamed their colleague from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Chiou Chuei-chen, who chaired yesterday’s meeting, for approving the CEPD, MAC and COA chiefs’ application for absence. Chiu also expressed his discontent with written reports presented by the five agencies on the possible adverse impact of the direct cross-strait trade, mail and transportation links, claiming that the reports were full of cliches and lacked fresh thinking. Seven members of the committee then came up with a motion to postpone the meeting to yesterday evening, tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., for the convenience of relevant Cabinet ministers. As the topic to be discussed involved major policy issues, the proposal immediately won majority support from members of the committee. Meanwhile, members of the Science and Technology Committee were also angered by the absence of Minister-without-Portfolio Tsai Ching-yen, who failed to attend its meeting, set to discuss how to integrate current government agencies in charge of communication and information affairs. Tsai was heading a Cabinet panel to handle relevant issues. DPP Legislator Liu Shih-fang then presented a proposal demanding that senior government officials do not absent themselves from the committee’s meetings; otherwise they would be condemned. The proposal was adopted by the committee with unanimous support from all committee members.