Gov’t calls for reforms amid speculation of ‘Ma-bashing’

The China Post staff

The central government yesterday called for reforms to narrow the gap between Taipei and other local administrations, sparking speculations that it was another “Ma-bashing” plot to “freeze” the municipality. Interior Minister Yu Cheng-hsien yesterday claimed that the reform would not affect the capital city’s status and power, which it is entitled to according to the constitution. He said the idea of the program is to give more power to the local governments formerly overseen by Taiwan Province, putting them on the “same level” as the Cabinet-directed special municipalities of Taipei and Kaohsiung. The “same level” does not mean Taipei and Kaohsiung will see a cut in central government funding, he explained. He added that the plan has yet to be finalized and that there was plenty of room for discussion. But he dismissed as “incomprehensible” the speculations that “Ma-bashing” was the intent behind the reform. The interior minister has been seen as a standard bearer in the alleged campaign of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party against Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou. Please see MA on page

Each and every dispute between the central government and Taipei has been seen as part of a plot to dampen Ma’s chances of being re-elected mayor at the end of thek year and winning the presidency in 2004. Ma fears that the city will be meet the same fate that Taiwan Province met a few years ago, when the provincial government was turned into a nominal body with no power and little money.

“This (local government reform) is not a wise policy,” Ma said. He added that Taipei citizens would not be tricked into believing that he was the cause of the city’s losses. He warned that reform should not be mixed with a political agenda. He also said he would be willing to discuss the reform with the ministry if overall regional development was given priority.

The central government must also cater to the special needs of the capital city, which is the “window on Taiwan,” he said. He dismissed the idea that his city was much richer than other cities, saying it had much more to spend than other local governments. Ma’s colleagues from the Kuomintang leapt to his defense. The KMT legislative caucus blasted the proposal as yet another DPP attempt to centralize power and resources. They said if the Cabinet were to go ahead with the reform, they would seek to impeach the officials in charge. Their strong allies from the People First Party pointed out that Taipei and Kaohsiung’s statuses as special municipalities are stipulated in the constitution and cannot be changed by rewriting the local government law. Taipei City also boycotted a ministry-organized forum on the reform yesterday, sending only low-level officials to the meeting. Liu Wen-shih, head of the ministry’s Civil Affairs Department, who had expected meet with the city’s civil affairs director at the forum, said the reform should not be politicized. He maintained that the ministry is not aiming to “abolish the special municipalities.” Kaohsiung, the only other Cabinet-directed municipality besides Taipei, supports the plan, the southern city’s finance director, Lin Hsian-kai, was quoted by the United Daily News as saying. Kaohsiung mayor Frank Hsieh is a member of the ruling party. Cabinet spokesman Chuang Sho-han declined to comment on the issue, as the Interior Ministry was still working out the details. But it is an irreversible trend to close the gap between the special municipalities and other local governments, he said. Lawmakers from the Taiwan Solidarity Union also backed the ministry’s plan, saying they will launch other bills to introduce a simple two-tier government system, abolishing township and village elections.