Budget bill for Keelung flood prevention heads to plenary session today

The China Post staff

The budget process for the NT$31.6 billion Keelung River flood prevention project remained stalled yesterday, as lawmakers failed to come to terms on funding for Taipei City. The joint review by five legislative committees decided to stop screening the budget bill after two rounds of fruitless negotiations between the ruling and opposition camps. Both sides agreed that the bill should be directly forwarded to the legislative plenary session today, pending further talks between the rivals. Leaders of both sides said if no conclusions could be reached in the upcoming negotiations, the bill would have to be put to a vote at the plenary session.

The talks broke down after the opposition demanded an additional NT$1.98 billion for Taipei City, which is left out in the budget currently being assessed. The opposition lawmakers have made it clear that although they support the NT$31.6 billion bill, they are also pressing the Cabinet for extra money for Taipei, which suffered its worst flood in a century during last year’s Typhoon Nari.

Lawmakers from the Kuomintang and the People First Party alleged that the city’s omission from the project is a part of a political agenda to unseat Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou in the year-end election. Leaving out the city is also unconstitutional, they added. Premier Yu Shyi-kun, who had been bombarded over the budget by opposition lawmakers during a lengthy question and answer session Monday, refused to comment on the accusations yesterday.

Yu, who did not attend the joint-committee review, said his top priority was to talk to lawmakers over the budget, to make sure that it would pass. During the review, some opposition lawmakers also accused the Cabinet of patching up the budget bill without careful planning. PFP Legislator Lee Tung-hao pointed out that the Cabinet’s Council for Economic Planning and Development asked the Economics Ministry on May 2 to work out blueprints and cost estimates for the Keelung River flood prevention project. The council demanded that the plan be sent to the Cabinet’s Public Construction Commission by July 31 for a final assessment for the budget, Lee said. Lee asked Economics Minister Lin Yi-fu why the Cabinet could send the budget bill to the Legislature on June 14 before the ministry came up with the cost estimates. Without explaining why the bill was hastily put forward, Lin said his ministry would still provide the Public Construction Commission with the cost estimates by the deadline. Meanwhile, Taipei Mayor Ma continued crying foul, saying that the Cabinet is denying his administration the flood prevention money the city badly needs. He said when President Chen Shui-bian was chief of Taipei, the city was rich but it still received a NT$500 million flood prevention fund from then Premier Lien Chan. Now the city is cash-strapped, but the central government is giving it nothing, he said. “Everyone knows perfectly well what this means,” the mayor said, obviously referring to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s alleged anti-Ma campaign.

The city is deeply concerned with flood problems, having allocated NT$10.8 billion for prevention works, Ma said, urging the central government to give the city the extra funding.