A Government In a State of Perpetual Emergency is a Government That Cannot Stand
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 24, 2008
As part of its short-term effort to boost the economy, the Liu cabinet has been pursuing additional budget cuts since taking office. It has proposed an increase in the budget to stimulate domestic demand. It never expected to come under severe criticism. All its plans have undergone additions, deletions, and amendments. After exhaustive efforts, they passed a third reading in the Legislative Yuan. The July 18 floods inundated central and southern Taiwan. The Liu cabinet immediately changed its mind. It prepared to divert funds to stimulate domestic demand to flood control, unexpectedly poking a hornet's nest. Not only did the Green camp not support it, even the Blue camp blasted it, going so far as to call it "arguably in violation of the law."
Is the reallocation of funds for stimulating domestic demand to disaster relief and flood control illegal? According to the Executive Yuan it is in compliance with the Disaster Prevention and Relief Law. It is exempt from the requirments of the Budget Act. The Executive Yuan's interpretation is correct, but only on condition it is exempt from the Budget Act. First, the disaster has to be of a large enough magnitude. A disaster relief committee must then be formed. It must submit disaster relief plans. The plans must be reported to the Executive Yuan. The plans must be submitted to the Legislative Yuan. Second, in the event disaster relief funds allocated by all levels of government are insufficient to cover they needs arising from a disaster, the annual revenues and expenses may be adjusted, but only in response to special circumstances. Only then will it be exempt from the provisions of the Budget Act.
Based on the above, do the July 18 floods meet the requirements for an emergency response above and beyond those provided by the Disaster Prevention and Relief Law? The July 18 flood was the result of Typhoon Kalmaegi. Taiwan has typhoons every year, and never only one. Every year between July and September is typhoon season. Typhoon related disasters are to be expected. The only difference is the severity of the disasters. Therefore governments at all levels, from central to local, budget the necessary funds every year. These include subsidies for crop damage and revenue loss. The difference between the Liu cabinet and past cabinets is that it has relaxed the requirements for agricultural subsidies. Even if one fails to meet the requirements, one can still apply for the subsidies. President Ma wants the Executive Yuan to consider whether private floodgates can be included in the subsidies. No matter what, when it comes to disaster relief and disaster recovery governments at all levels must fulfill their respective duties and responsibilities. Whether they have "adequate funds" must be determined through Executive Yuan calculations. They must not divert funds from other budgets before first making calculations, or before the original budget has been exhausted.
Of course, flood control and disaster recovery are not equivalent and should not be spoken of in the same breath. Flood control is a major undertaking. Years ago James Soong was Governor of Taiwan. His first act in office was to provide an eight year, 50 billion dollar budget for Kaoping Creek flood control. The budget was billed as a dedicated, pioneering flood control effort, and caused quite a stir. By comparison the DPP government's special budget for Keelung River flood control, which cost 40 billion, isn't even worth mentioning. No matter what, one can imagine the scale of flood control projects. Tens of billions of dollars merely to tame a river or a creek. How many rivers and creeks in central and southern Taiwan does the Executive Yuan expect to tame with its 40 billion allocation? Premier Liu said that merely to purchase the land will cost 500 billion. Forty billion is not enough even for a single county.
Flood control projects are major undertakings. They are long-term projects. Building dikes, dredging, and when necessary, even making large-scale relocations. For example, the Yunlin coast is subject to long-term settlement. It is also a traditional low-lying waterway. During moderate rains it floods. During heavy rains it invariably leads to disaster. In the event of a record 100 year rainfall, no matter how high one makes the dikes, one cannot prevent a potential deluge. Years ago, James Soong allocated 4 billion to occupational retraining for farmers and fishermen. He dredged fish farm ponds to control floods and to prevent the intrusion of sea water. His plan was soon scrapped. It cost four billion back then. Today it would cost many times more. Do we want to do it? Would it be part of a long-term flood control plan? Clearly this is not merely a matter of diverting 40 billion dollars from the budget.
The Executive Yuan must face a number of challenges and problems. The typhoon season has begun. Typhoon Kalmaegi has gone, but who knows when the next typhoon will arrive? If heavy rains again lead to disaster, how much of the budget will remain? How much can be allocated? Before the onset of the next typhoon, what contingency plans will minimize potential disasters?
Amidst widespread skepticism, the Executive Yuan changed its spin. It stressed that only part of the budget will be devoted to stimulating domestic demand. However local governments faced with inadequate funds for disaster relief may apply. If that is the case, what will happen to the original half-year plan to stimulate domestic demand? Doesn't this validate the criticisms leveled by members of both the ruling and opposition camps, who said that this item in the budget was not needed? Also, according to the Disaster Prevention and Relief Law, when funding is inadequate to cover "adjusted annual income and expenditures," and the annual budget process is still in progress, any attempt to balance the budget should divert funds from the annual budget. The previous administration's eight year, 100 billion budget is still in effect. Many local governments haven't even had a chance to issue contracts. These were long ago included in the budget. Why can't we start with these? Why must we divert funds earmarked for the stimulation of domestic demand?
The Ma administration has been in office for two months. It must clean up the ungodly mess left by its predecessor. Its six-month emergency plan involves the stimulation of domestic demand. But six months have yet to pass, and it has already launched an emergency flood control plan and budget. How long does the Ma administration intend to remain in a state of emergency? Flood control is a long-term major infrastructure project. Flood control cannot respond to emergencies and cannot solve emergencies. A government in a perpetual state of emergency, is a government that cannot stand.