Local gov’t heads clash over infrastructure plan

By James Lo, The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Local government chiefs clashed at a public hearing on the Executive Yuan’s eight-year, NT$880 billion infrastructure plan, with Kuomintang (KMT) representatives accusing the Cabinet of favoritism toward the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The fourth hearing on the “Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Plan” was attended by New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫), Kaohsiung City Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊), Taichung City Mayor Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍), Taoyuan Mayor Cheng Wen-tsan (鄭文燦) and Keelung City Mayor Lin Yu-chang (林右昌).

Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) and Hsinchu Mayor Lin Chih-chien (林智堅) declined to attend, sending deputy mayors in their stead. The KMT’s Chu criticized the fact that funding for only a few of New Taipei City’s proposed infrastructure budgets had been approved by the central government.

He said the government’s “forward-looking” plan was not forward looking at all if the government continued to limit the progress of New Taipei. The KMT’s legislative caucus also criticized the government at a press conference, claiming that President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration had deliberately approved the budgets of cities under the governance of DPP mayors. Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, an independent widely viewed as part of the pan-green camp, skipped the hearing altogether despite promising to attend.

Ko said he changed his mind at the last minute because it had become clear to him that the hearing would disintegrate into “a war of words.”

Ko said the central government’s plan was problematic as it overestimated the ability of local governments to finance infrastructure projects. He added that it ignored the already serious overlapping responsibilities among transportation construction agencies in Taiwan.

Without solving these issue the central government would end up paying for local government’s loss-making projects, Ko said.

Ko has been criticized by city councilors in Taipei for not doing enough to fight for allocation of funding to be earmarked in the Cabinet’s infrastructure plan, after media reported that Taipei would receive next to nothing from the plan’s funds.

Local media also suggested that Ko decided not to attend following a dispute regarding the plan with Chu. In response, DPP Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) posted a photo of a budget approval letter dated from Feb. 22 on her Facebook page on Monday. Kuan stated that over NT$20 billion was granted to Taipei and New Taipei City, and that she did not understand why Chu was complaining despite knowing that the city would be receiving such a large amount of money. Before the hearing, Chu and Minister Without Portfolio Chang Ching-sen (張景森) also exchanged heated words over the internet. Chang initiated the argument on Facebook, complaining that the combined development budgets of Taipei and New Taipei in the past had been three times that of the future budgets of the rest of the cities combined, stating that the total investment of the nation toward the cities was estimated at some NT$1.2 trillion. Chang’s complaint was supported by both Chen Chu and Lin Chia-lung. Chen said that according to her observations, both Taipei and New Taipei had “clearly received a lot more money in grants in the past.”