Politically-Motivated Flood Control Would Defeat Even Da Yu
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
September 5, 2013
Summary: Moderate Typhoon Kong-Rey inflicted heavy damage on central and southern Taiwan. The tail end of the typhoon moved northward and dumped heavy rains on Keelung, at Taiwan's northern tip. Flood waters visited disaster upon both Keelung City and Keelung County. They also led to mutual recriminations between local and central government. Bickering over flood control budgets and flood control effectiveness raged endlessly, confusing everyone looking on.
Full text below:
Moderate Typhoon Kong-Rey inflicted heavy damage on central and southern Taiwan. The tail end of the typhoon moved northward and dumped heavy rains on Keelung, at Taiwan's northern tip. Flood waters visited disaster upon both Keelung City and Keelung County. They also led to mutual recriminations between local and central government. Bickering over flood control budgets and flood control effectiveness raged endlessly, confusing everyone looking on.
Typhoons batter Taiwan every year. The government and the public have engaged in soil and water conservation. They have invested heavily in river remediation. Nevertheless each time a typhoon arrives, flooding follows. Each time rain falls, disaster follows. This is true every time, everywhere, in the north or in the south. Typhoon Kong-Rey showed that local flooding does not discriminate between Blue and Green, and that landslides are indifferent to the time and date.
Floods and landslides have nothing to do with Blue or Green political affiliation. Green Camp city mayors and county chiefs gathered in one place to demand flood control money and plead with the central government. Interior Minister Li Hong-yuan even spoke up, telling Premier Jiang Yi-hua how to control floods. An public policy issue that should transcend partisanship, has become a political issue.
If one concentrated exclusively on the technical aspects of flood control, the problems would be so much simpler. But flood control is side-tracked by political considerations. Political posture and electoral considerations get dragged in. Add personal political calculations, and the issue becomes increasingly complex, and the focus increasingly blurred.
Sadly, as long as torrential rains batter Taiwan, we will be subjected to "politically-motivated flood control." Central Emergency Operations Center Commander Li Hong-yuan said that some counties were lax in disaster prevention. This provoked immediate opposition party counterattacks. Some got down on their knees and pleaded. Others shrilly denounced him, The interaction between central and local governments, the bickering over flood control money, left everyone red in the face with anger.
Li Hong-yuan said "If we talk only about money, then flood control is impossible. The central government may allocate 60 billion or 600 billion to flood control. But if local governments continue pumping out too much groundwater, it will be to no avail." Tainan City Mayor Lai Ching-teh, in league with the five city mayors and county chiefs, lashed out. "If Li Hong-yuan personally took a trip to the region, examined the reasons for the flooding, and the results of flood control, he would realize that we are not merely asking the central government for money."
In fact, when city mayors and county chiefs fight for central government money, the lines are not necessarily drawn along Blue and Green political lines. Sometimes it is actually about who is in need. Take Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin. Lai Ching-teh blasted him for tardiness in declaring a typhoon emergency. Hau bluntly averred that government heads could do little, and that hoped people would understand.
Later however, Hau phoned four city mayors and county chiefs in Yunling, Chiayi, and Tainan, asking them if they required assistance. But he never received a clear answer. Premier Chiang went south to survey the affected regions. But county chiefs and city mayors confronted him with demands for funds. Observers cannot help concluding that their presumption was a prelude to demands for handouts. As a result, Hau, who ventured forth on his own initiative, was more than a little embarrassed .
Local heads in the stricken regions were ambivalent toward Taipei City. They presented two faces to the central government. This reveals how serious the problem of "politically motivated flood control" is. On the one hand, local county chiefs and city mayors have not rid themselves of partisanship. Even a goodwill gesture from the capital city provoked political discomfort among the different parties. On the other hand, it is always about the money. Local government heads' petitions, in the final analysis, were always about money.
A closer look shows that during the DPP's eight years in power, it handed out 80 billion in flood control money. Now its time has run out. Five Green Camp county chiefs and city mayors in the south are demanding 60 billion over 6 years. Special budgets or public budgets are no different. Ten billion a year in flood control money is bound to become a political issue. Local governments have no intention of quitting until they get what they want. But the central government must worry about the money being spent where it will do the most good.
Yunlin, Chiayi, Tainan, and Pingtung have announced the result of their flood control efforts. They are swearing up and down that every penny is being used where it does the most good. The Ministry of the Interior was silent for several days. It then released fund allocation lists and re-released county and city rankings for adminstrative efficiency. They blasted Yunlin and Chiayi. A single declaration that "The per capita storm sewer construction funds for each county could not buy a hard-boiled egg" intensified the rhetoric between central and local governments.
Political struggles have resulted in political rhetoric trumping flood control. Local and central governments each have their own political calculations. Who cares about the legislature's latest report about which local government's flood control is the least effective? Who cares about Ma Ying-jeou's declaration that "central and local governments share a common concern for flood control?"
Flood control is a long term project. It requires multi-generational continuity. It requires ongoing struggle that transcends partisanship and sectarianism. It requires concern for the public weal. Yunlin County Chief Su Chih-fen posted a message on Facebook. "Eight years ago the comprehensive governance program failed to simultaneously promote comprehensive water management. This was most unfortunate." In fact, this was Li Hong-yuan's "comprehensive flood control" concept. Su added, "Watershed Management" and long-term land planning reform can be implemented simultaneously. This was something Li Hong-yuan consistently advocated with his "watershed management partnership."
The ruling and opposition parties are not necessarily talking about parallel flood control plans. Su Chih-fen and Li Hong-yuan spoke over the phone. They had a good talk. This shows that in the absence of political considerations and calculations of self-interest, the two sides can reach a consensus. Otherwise, even if the legendary Da Yu were reincarnateded, he would not be able to control today's flood waters.