Cross-ministry task force formed to crack down on environmental offenders

The China Post news staff

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The Cabinet yesterday formed a cross-ministry environmental conservation task force, reportedly vowing to crack down with an “iron fist” on violators. The Homeland Conservation Task Force (HCTF) was vested with a mission to improve the environment, reduce pollution, and preserve and control development in mountainous, coastal and sensitive areas, such as water conservation zones. Under the task force are four working groups headed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), the Council of Agriculture (COA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Ministry of the Interior (MOI), respectively.

There will also be a law enforcement group jointly managed by the MOI and Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to clamp down on violators. The establishment of the task force was prompted by the Golden Horse Award-winning documentary “Beyond Beauty — Taiwan from Above.”

Premier Jiang Yi-huah, after seeing the film with other Cabinet members earlier this month, said that action must be taken to solve the pollution and over-development problems that the documentary shows plaguing the island. In montages of aerial footage, the film documents the beauty of Taiwan as well as the serious extent to which many of its rivers have been polluted and land over-developed.

A total of 16 problems were identified in the film, and the responsibilities of solving them were split between the four working groups formed under the HCTF. At a meeting with his Cabinet members on the work of the HCTF, Premier Jiang reportedly demanded they use an “iron fist” to enforce the government’s environmental conservation policies, according to United Evening News. The premier also demanded that local governments cooperate in enforcing these policies, the paper said, adding that Jiang expects to see “preliminary” results in a month. But there are critics and skeptics. About 30 environmental activists who staged a protest in front of the Cabinet building where Jiang held the meeting accused the government of lying. They argued that though the government claims the documentary has shown the importance of conserving water resources, just last month the MOI relaxed rules governing land development in water conservation zones. Now government-owned land in reservoir areas can be rented or sold to businesses, they stressed.

They pointed out that the documentary clearly shows that a river in Taoyuan has turned red because of wastewater released by nearby factories, but the government is still keen to build an aviation city in the area. An activist from Taoyuan, Pan Cheng-chung, said that environmental authorities in the county indicated they have been working hard to crack down on polluters, but problems remain. Pan claimed there have seldom been any factories ordered to suspend operations because of pollution. “The factory owners are not afraid,” said Pan. Environmentalists cited a case in Taichung where a factory was caught releasing untreated wastewater into a nearby river. It received a fine.

But the environmentalists stressed that such violators will only be fined NT$60,000 to NT$600,000 each time they are caught.

Former Legislator Wang Hsing-nan said the colors of the polluted rivers look terrible, but the real terror is the high levels of heavy metals in the water.