Food Safety Act Amendment Process Reveals Defects in Taiwan Style Democracy
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
October 29, 2014
Executive Summary: Taiwan urgently needs to establish a long term food safety management
system. This requires examining the experience of other countries. It
requires understanding the food production chain. It requires
cooperation between the ruling and opposition parties, as well as civic
groups to rectify the problem of food safety. , We have seen the defects
in Taiwan style democracy. It has plenty of partisan power struggles,
but little partisan cooperation. It has the outward appearance of
democracy, but it lacks its transparency. It has free elections, but
little long-term planning or careful decision-making. Taiwan style
democracy truly needs to undergo major review, and major renovation.
Full Text Below:
Food safety crises erupt endlessly. They have seriously impacted Taiwan society. Now people hear the term "food safety," and immediately become anxious. They have no idea how many ticking time bombs are about to go off. They cannot tell how many toxins they and their families have have been exposed to. They are even less sure about the impact of these toxins on their physical health.
Western scholars speak of the impact of globalization on contemporary society. They speak of an "age of anxiety." Workers approaching retirement age worry about pensions. Young people entering the marketplace cannot find jobs. Even those with jobs may only be temp workers with no job security. Parents worry about their childrens' safety. They worry about toxic foods, toxic toys, and toxic household items. Certain issues are seen as remote. In fact they extremely vital and affect their daily lives. These issues include international oil prices, global warming, GMFs, and free trade agreements.
The "age of anxiety" has arrived. At a deeper level, it means that people have lost faith in their political and economic systems. They hold diminishing expectations, and increasing suspicions. Take food safety. Many years ago, people on Taiwan watched as merchants on the Mainland foisted toxic foodstuffs and dangerous products on the public. They blasted the Mainland for its lack of moral character and its political and social system. They assumed that toxic foodstuffs was a direct consequence of undemocratic politics, lack of information transparency, and collusion between power and money. They patted themselves on the back, glad that Taiwan enjoyed democracy and better way of life. Even if they were unable to become an economically wealthy and militarily powerful nation, the could at least take comfort in being "small but beautiful." Who knew the day would come when the people on Taiwan, so proud of their small but beautiful lifestyle, would repeatedly find themselves the victims of food safety crises.
When the rancid cooking oil crisis erupted, the ruling and opposition parties began to talk about amending the "food safety and health management law." On October 24, the Legislative Yuan decided it would address this bill, which had attracted so much attention. The KMT legislative caucus put the food safety law first on the agenda. The KMT and DPP legislative caucuses each issued Class A caucus mobilization orders. One might say that the two parties put on an elaborate show for the voters.
However when DPP legislative whip Ker Chien-ming was interviewed outside the legislature, he said "The probability that the legislature will pass the bill today is zero." The excuse Ker Chien-ming gave was that "the KMT did not even bother to convene ruling and opposition party consultations." He accused the KMT of "fundamental disregard for the food safety law." The ruling and opposition parties pay lip service to "the people's livelihood before politics," but in fact put politics first. They link the food safety law with other issues such as legislative consent. They each have their own calculations. The result is the amending of the law gets repeatedly postponed. Will the Food Safety Act be successfully amended by the end of October? That is still a huge question mark. This is an illustration of how under Taiwan style democracy partisan interests override the interests of general public.
That said, the Food Safety Act draft law has many controversial provisions. The Legislative Yuan social welfare, health, and environment committee convened five meetings, and examined 37 provisions. It eventually adopted eight amendments, rejected another eight, and shelved another 21 for caucus consideration. The ratio was as high as 56%. These provisions contained many controversial elements. For example, the burden of proof, how to establish food security police, as well as double-indemnity and decriminalization of disputes. Many citizens' groups have been accused ruling and opposition party caucus negotiations is "under the table negotiations." The negotiation process is completely hidden from the outside world. No one knows whether legislators are covering for manufacturers. In the event of disputes, it becomes difficult to establish accountability. In the end, the result is likely to be mutual recriminations, shirking of responsibility, and the truth being kept from the public. These criticisms by citizen groups are not without foundation. Taiwan style democracy is "phony transparency, genuine secrecy." The food safety act amendment process has revealed the incestuous relationship between money and power.
As we all know, whenever a food safety crises erupts the public will demand that the food safety act be amended. In six years it has been amended six times. Yet food safety crises continue to erupt. Merely authoring or amending food safety laws demonstrates a lack of long-term vision. It fails to address the actual situation. Hence the farce of repeatedly amending the law. This underscores the futility of past amendments to the law, when the legislature failed to achieve its purported goals. It also reflects the undue haste with which the ruling and opposition parties amended the law. They failed to conduct thorough investigations or study the actual problems. They failed to solicit expert opinions or heed public concerns. They failed to develop long term policies. They lacked efficiency. They lacked circumspectiion. They lacked the capacity for pactical decision-making. This sort of "bidding war, sloganeering" behavior is another defect in Taiwan style democracy.
Taiwan urgently needs to establish a long term food safety management system. This requires examining the experience of other countries. It requires understanding the food production chain. It requires cooperation between the ruling and opposition parties, as well as civic groups to rectify the problem of food safety. , We have seen the defects in Taiwan style democracy. It has plenty of partisan power struggles, but little partisan cooperation. It has the outward appearance of democracy, but it lacks its transparency. It has free elections, but little long-term planning or careful decision-making. Taiwan style democracy truly needs to undergo major review, and major renovation.