Legislature passes Keelung flood prevention budget

The China Post staff

The Legislature yesterday unanimously passed the NT$31.6 billion Keelung River flood prevention budget, but the Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers outvoted the opposition to exclude Taipei City from the project. Not a single dollar was cut from the NT$31.6 billion for flood prevention works along the Keelung River, as both the DPP and the opposition thought it imperative to tackle flood problems in greater Taipei. But opposition lawmakers failed to pass Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou’s request that an extra NT$1.98 billion for the capital city’s flood prevention works be added to the budget. Lawmakers from the People First Party and the Kuomintang were outnumbered by their DPP rivals, who were backing Cabinet claims that Taipei City was rich enough to fund its own flood prevention works. But the capital city did not suffer a total defeat in the legislative showdown.

The Legislature still decided to give NT$350 million to the Ma administration for dike repair works at the Neikou Creek, which runs along the border of Taipei City and County. But the budget for the Neikou project is not part of the NT$31.6 billion, and will have to be separately worked out by the Cabinet. “I regret the Legislative Yuan’s decision,” Ma said after lawmakers rejected the NT$1.98 billion he was asking for.

But he still expressed gratitude for the lawmakers who “corrected part of the Executive Yuan’s mistakes” by granting the city the money needed for the Neikou project. The budget dispute marked yet another episode in the “Ma-bashing” campaign the DPP allegedly is running to undermine the KMT mayor’s reelection bid. The Neikou funding was granted because Lee Ying-yuan, Ma’s DPP contender for the mayoral seat, reportedly had voiced support for it.

Ma said the failure to secure the funding was not his personal loss, but a defeat for all the residents of Taipei, which he said was cash-strapped and could not afford the flood prevention projects urgently needed. He dismissed the idea that Lee, the former secretary general of the Cabinet, was the key factor contributing to the DPP lawmakers’ approval for the Neikou plan. He said Lee should have secured the Neikou budget while he was Premier Yu Shyi-kun’s top aide. He said the Neikou plan was okayed because it involved the neighboring county, while the other projects within the city itself were all vetoed.

The PFP caucus warned that the DPP administration should be held fully responsible if any flooding occurs along the Keelung River because of the exclusion of Taipei City from the present project. PFP Legislator Chin Huei-chu called on Taipei residents to show their disapproval of the DPP by supporting Ma in the year-end election. KMT whip Lin Yi-shih, expressing regret over the rejection of the Taipei budget, echoed the PFP warning that the Cabinet should shoulder the full blame if Taipei is flooded in the future. Another KMT whip, Lee Chuan-ao, said he hoped the Cabinet would remedy its mistake by reviving the budget for Taipei. But the DPP lawmakers denied that the Cabinet was ignoring the welfare of the capital city. They said Taipei City, which is downstream of the Keelung River, would still benefit from the NT$31.6 billion flood prevention works being done at upstream Taipei County and Keelung City. But the details of the flood prevention works remain unknown, as the Cabinet has yet to provide the lawmakers with a complete plan. Voting on the budget, the Legislature also demanded the Cabinet submit a detailed plan within a month after the new legislative session opens in September. The Cabinet should also work out new estimates for the Keelung River’s flooding cycles and present them to the lawmakers, it said. The Economics Ministry’s Water Resources Agency, thanking the lawmakers’ support, said the Keelung River project is expected to be completed by May 2005.