Taiwan's Worst Problem:
Laws are mere Formalities
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 25, 2013
Summary: Taiwan's legal system is nominally comprehensive. But it is a far cry from any mature rule of law. Public awareness has been awakened. But a considerable gap remains between public expectations and government accomplishments. Taiwan has no shortage of social movements. But social movements do not fully represent society as a whole. Most troublesome of all, government policy is often held hostage by social movements. Dialogue with society as a whole is ignored. One example is the long controversial 4NPP. No resolution has been reached after 32 years.
Full text below:
Three years ago, when Vice President Wu Den-yih was Premier, he said everyone says laws on Taiwan are as numerous as hairs on an ox. But when it comes time to enforce them, "The sky may rain gold bullion, but one cannot grab even a single one." His words struck a chord for many people. At the time, social groups were expressing extreme dissatisfaction with the sensationalistic news stories published by "Action News." Eventually public indignation forced the Taipei City Government to enforce the law and impose fines. Wu Den-yih's remarks still apply to many aspects of life on Taiwan. The government fails to govern fairly and decisively in accordance with the law. This leads to public clashes over social values. Opposite poles of society remain locked in an endless tug of war. Major policy decisions become difficult, if not impossible. This has become a key impediment to progress on Taiwan.
For several consecutive days, the China News has tackled difficult topics. They include the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant (4NPP) controversy, as well as wrangling over EIAs, media monopolies, urban renewal, and the abolition of the death penalty. It has conducted in-depth investigations. Taiwan trumpets its democracy and rule of law. But the truth is, it is a lawless society. Its laws are mere formalities. This has become Taiwan's most serious problem.
The rule of law is the basis of constitutional rule. It subjects the government to constitutional constraints, ensuring that the law represents the will of the people. Laws are passed by elected legislators. Such a framework limits both the government and citizens. Neither can exceed these limits. The constitution defines government power and prevents its abuse. The law defines people's rights, and the bounds beyond which they cannot go without detriment to the rights of others. In other words, the rule of law is binding on both the government and the people.
Taiwan's legal system is nominally comprehensive. But it is a far cry from any mature rule of law. Public awareness has been awakened. But a considerable gap remains between public expectations and government accomplishments. Taiwan has no shortage of social movements. But social movements do not fully represent society as a whole. Most troublesome of all, government policy is often held hostage by social movements. Dialogue with society as a whole is ignored. One example is the long controversial 4NPP. No resolution has been reached after 32 years. The Legislative Yuan fought over the budget under Lee Teng-hui. The Chen Shui-bian administration restarted then stopped construction. Controversy over whether construction should be continued or halted rages on even under the Ma administration. Years ago, pro-nuclear sentiment outweighed anti-nuclear sentiment. Today anti-nuclear sentiment outweighs pro-nuclear sentiment. But whether a politically diverse Taiwan continues or halts construction on the 4NPP is irrelevant. How we arrive at the final decision is irrelevant. Controversy over whether the project should be continued or halted will persist. Therefore the only relevant issue is what procedure can implement the wishes of the majority while mollifying the feelings of the minority, and enable society to reduce controversy to a minimum.
The Chen Shui-bian administration unilaterally halted construction on the 4NPP, generating a political storm. The 4NPP policy and budget were passed by the legislature after three readings. They represented the will of the majority under a democracy. But Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster led to a global re-examination of energy policy. The government unilaterally and unconstitutionally halted construction on the 4NPP. According to the law, the government has only two alternatives. One. A majority in the legislature resolves to halt construction, backed by the will of the majority. Two. If the legislature finds it difficult to make a decision on behalf of the people and for posterity, it can appeal directly to the public, by seeking a public referendum. But either way, pro-nuclear or anti-nuclear views will not be silenced. This is the hallmark of a democratic and pluralistic society. One will always have minority dissent. One will always have differing opinions. Given this diversity of opinion, good government will identify the will of the majority and implement it. A government must not fear making decisions merely because there is dissent.
Anti-nuclear sentiment is increasing. The Ma administration has chosen to seek a public referendum. To some extent this will alleviate pressure on the legislature. It will spare the legislature intense conflict. It will avoid the need to mobilize party legislators over the 4NPP controversy. But it cannot avoid increased political pressure pro and con. This pressure will build as we approach the 2014 seven in one election, and even the 2016 presidential election. Actually, such political predictions are superfluous. Even if the legislature arrives at a decision without resorting to a referendum, the political backlash will persist through the next two elections.
A responsible government must make bold decisions. It must not overlook the need for communication and dialogue before and after implementing its decisions. Construction on the 4NPP was first halted, then resumed. During the last few years, neither Blue or Green administrations have dialogued with the public. Even anti-nuclear groups have been ignored. Resumption of work on the 4NPP involved hundreds of omissions. The Control Yuan corrected these omissions and impeached those responsible for them. But Taipower and the agencies in charge have yet to improve their operating procedures. Omissions such as these led to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. They significantly increase public concerns over the 4NPP. Whether the controversy is resolved via a public referendum or a legislative ballot, a construction halt on the 4NPP is an energy policy dilemma that either a Blue or Green administration will have to face. Continued work on the 4NPP will requires assurances of nuclear safety. One cannot relax, not even for even a day. One must realize that despite disagreements, everyone is a citizen. A democratic Taiwan must be a rational Taiwan. The consequences must be borne by everyone.
社論－「有法無天、正本清源」系列二之一 法規形同具文 已成台灣最大危機