Official offers to quit over hearings

The China Post news staff

A top Council of Agriculture official offered his resignation Monday after being personally attacked at a public hearing on whether to lift a ban on food imports from five Japanese prefectures affected by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Chen Chun-yen (陳俊言), director of the council’s Department of International Affairs, was on the receiving end of stinging attacks by Kuomintang New Taipei City Councilor Chen Ming-yi at a hearing on Sunday, though he was not present. The councilor joined a chorus of criticism claiming that the public hearings were only showpieces organized to pave the way for the lifting of the ban. Chen, who was involved in organizing the hearings, announced his intention to resign in a statement from Singapore, saying he would formally step down after returning to Taiwan. However, Deputy Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Chong-chi said the council would not accept the resignation.

The developments came Monday, the final of three days of public meetings held to discuss whether the government should phase out the import ban. Hearings around Taiwan on Saturday and Sunday descended into chaos and physical altercations, and those on Monday were no different. Independent and opposition councilors joined forces with residents to boycott the public hearings.

Lawmaker Lin Shu-feng (林淑芬) of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said at a hearing Monday that Taiwanese people should not pay the price for the mistakes made by Japan in handling the Fukushima crisis. “Taiwanese people should not bear the brunt of the radiation-affected Japanese foods,” Lin said on a Facebook post. “It’s the Japanese government not the Taiwanese people that should tackle the radiation disaster threatening the survival of Japanese people,” added Lin, who serves as convener of the Legislature’s Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee, which ordered the Cabinet to hold the public hearings.

The Cabinet said the ban on products from Fukushima would remain while imports from the four other radiation-affected prefectures of Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba would be allowed in and scrutinized through batch-by-batch inspections. High-risk products from certain areas would also need to be accompanied by dual certificates — one to prove that radiation contamination is within allowable levels and the other to certify place of origin.

The measures have been met with skepticism. Lin on Monday questioned who would be in charge of defining what constituted a high-risk product.

“And if illegal imports of high-risk products from high-risk prefectures are found in Taiwan, will the Japanese government be cooperative in helping Taiwan with investigations?” Lin asked.

Taiwan ‘not well prepared for lifting the ban’ The short notice and short time span of the public hearings has also been targeted by critics. Arriving for a committee session to screen an unrelated labor bill, Lin echoed these concerns, telling reporters that “it’s a rush move to hold 10 public hearings on the issue within three days.”

Being held so hastily meant the public hearings were virtually meaningless, Lin said.

“I don’t think Taiwan is well prepared for lifting the ban,” she added.