Now is the Time for Legislative Reform -- Again
China Times News (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
January 17, 2014
Summary: The legislature is of course not the executive branch's "legislative bureau." But neither should it be able to hijack major bills, and make it impossible to implement government policy. We must restore healthy competition between the two branches. The executive branch must improve its decision-making and communications with the outside. The legislative branch must increase its self-discipline and discipline of others. The problem of legislative abuse of power must be solved. Now is the time to demand legislative reform.
Full text below:
Late into the night of the 14th, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng brought down his gavel and adjourned the legislature. Amidst public demands for increased oversight, the legislature passed 146 central government budgets, setting a record for the year. But quantity is not quality. The Executive Yuan called for a referendum on the nuclear power plant number four, for pension reform , for the trade in services agreement, for the food safety bill, and for other high priority bills. These have yet to be reviewed. We must determine precisely where the problem arose, what led to legislative inaction, and what stalled national and social development?
The constitutional separation of powers treats the Executive Yuan and Legislative Yuan as "two wings of a bird, or two wheels of a cart." The ruling party enjoys a legislative majority. Legislation ought to pass easily. Policy ought to be easy to implement, enabling it to promote progress and prosperity. But consider the legislative record. The executive has been weak. The legislature has been strong. The balance between the two has been shattered. Power has become concentrated in the Legislative Yuan. As a result, legislation has been delayed, and the performance of the executive has suffered.
Take the referendum on the nuclear power plant number four. Jiang Yi-hua put his job on the line. He vowed that if the referendum on the nuclear power plant number four failed to pass, he would resign. But Blue Camp legislators who sponsored the referendum took advantage of the the September Ma/Wang political struggle to temporary adjourn. Ma Ying-jeou's cherished pension reform bill would have given people 30 years peace of mind. Now it is lies stillborn in the legislature. The trade in services agreement affects Taiwan's regional trade and economic integration. It also failed to receive a Third Reading.
Such is the fate of politically sensitive motions. But public welfare bills have been even less successful. The food safety bill plugs loopholes related to contaminated foodstuffs. The Executive Yuan draft amendment was presented to the Legislative Yuan. Yet 54 days later, it remains adrift, yet to be given a third reading. If this is not legislative inaction, what is legislative inaction?
This highlights a major problem confronting Taiwan: "Populism rules!" Even the legislature cannot avoid populist legislation. Legislators face reelection pressures. Consider the pension bill. Blue Camp legislators fear alienating rank and file level civil service employees and public school teachers. Green Camp legislators fear alienating labor. The result? Sacrifice pension reform. Allow the pension fund to expand until it is forced to declare bankruptcy.
Legislative inaction remains an intractable problem. When the executive branch makes mistakes, officials are given demerits, punishments, or transfers. Political appointees may be forced to resign. Legislative inaction by contrast, is only subject to voter approval every four years. This discrepancy conflicts with the principle of proportionality.
In a democracy, legislators represent the people by passing legislation and overseeing the government. Passing effective legislation is an important part of their job. The legislature must exercise greater self-discipline and improve its performance. But instead, in September, it provoked political struggle. Ker Chien-ming had the chutzpah to spin influence peddling within the criminal justice system as "judicial appeal." He affected the pose of a "fixer" who can "get you whatever you want." The Legislative Disciplinary Committee was utterly useless. As we can see, legislative self-discipline is a dead letter.
Compare the Legislative Yuan Disciplinary Commitee with the Judicial Yuan Disciplinary Committee. External forces must be introduced into the legislature. The Disciplinary Committee need not be limited to legislators. It may include civic groups approved by the legislature. It may include retired judges or legal scholars. This would prevent the Disciplinary Committee from becoming nothing more than cover-up artists. This is the first step in legislative reform.
Currently such groups as the Citizens Congress Watch and the Pocket Congress website oversee the legislature, The Legislature can incorporate these into the Disciplinary Committee. The media can send monitors to increase oversight and encourage the legislature to undergo further reform.
The executive and legislative powers have become imbalanced. This anomaly must be addressed. The executive must do a better job of explaining its policies to outsiders. Before each legislative session, it must determine which bills ought to be given priority. The ruling party must impose party discipline. As soon as talks between the ruling and opposition parties resume, it must send its bills to the legislature for a vote, and take full advantage of its legislative majority.
During the 2010 Review of the "Local Government Act," the KMT held a majority. It guided the bill to its third reading. Ma Ying-jeou was a Kuomintang Central Standing Committee member. His rallying cry was, "The majority party in the legislature is unable set the legislative agenda. If this situation is not changed, we do not deserve to be called the ruling party!" The KMT must reestablish the decisiveness and self-confidence it had back then.
Thirdly, we must enable the major and minor party whips to do their job. They must ensure that the government, the executive, and the party act in unison. The trade in services agreement has encountered obstacles to its passage. This is the result of KMT party whip Ling Hung-chi's agreeing to 16 public hearings. The "Communications Protection and Surveillance Act" swiftly passed its third reading. The Ministry of Justice, the National Police Agency complained that it would be "difficult to implement, and tie law enforcement's hands." This shows that the ruling party has serious problems with internal communications and coordination.
Ma Ying-jeou's term is nearing its end. He is about to become a lame duck. But President Ma Ying-jeou is also party chairman. This gives him certain political advantages. He has the power to nominate legislators without portfolio and regional legislators. He has many political tools at his disposal. In 2010, the government, the executive, and the party were unified under one leader. This could happen again. It all depends on how well President Ma and Chairman Ma make use of the tools at their disposal.
Backroom deals between the ruling and opposition parties have long plagued the legislature. In June of last year, the "Accounting Law" fiasco erupted. It forced the government and the executive to pass emergency legislative as corrective. The ruling and opposition party consultation system was faulty. A transparent mechanism for future negotiations must be established. The threshold for legislative caucuses may need to be raised. This would prevent obstructionism by splinter parties. A committee leader system must be established. All of the above measures must be considered.
Finally, we have the role of Wang Jin-pying. Ma and Wang, as well as the ruling and opposition parties, relate to each other in certain ways. This is the political reality. Wang Jin-pyng must choose between being a neutral Legislative Speaker and a loyal KMT member. Only then can legislative efficiency be restored. Wang Jin-pyng recently proposed the establishment of a "Legislative Yuan cross-strait affairs countermeasures team" to increase legislative oversight. This proposal would deprive the executive branch of control over cross-strait policy. Wang Jin-pying could resign from the KMT Central Standing Committee. He could assume a neutral role as legislative speaker, and mediate between the ruling and opposition parties. Perhaps then the ruling and opposition parties could develop a consensus on cross-strait policy. This could be a blessing for cross-strait relations. But given the the political realities. the odds are against it.
The legislature is of course not the executive branch's "legislative bureau." But neither should it be able to hijack major bills, and make it impossible to implement government policy. We must restore healthy competition between the two branches. The executive branch must improve its decision-making and communications with the outside. The legislative branch must increase its self-discipline and discipline of others. The problem of legislative abuse of power must be solved. Now is the time to demand legislative reform.
中國時報 本報訊 2014年01月16日 04:09