United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
October 27, 2015
Executive Summary: The Yunlin County garbage crisis shows that green camp "joint regional governance" is nothing more than empty rhetoric. Political advantage trumps administrative cooperation. A storm of criticism has forced Yunlin County Chief Li Jing-yung to change his tune and declare that the Linnei Incinerators "will never go into operation". Li said he was willing to make incinerator operation an "option". This problem is the touchstone for Tsai Ing-wen's joint regional governance, and shows that green camp joint regional governance is easier said than done.
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The Yunlin County garbage crisis shows that green camp "joint regional governance" is nothing more than empty rhetoric. Political advantage trumps administrative cooperation. A storm of criticism has forced Yunlin County Chief Li Jing-yung to change his tune and declare that the Linnei Incinerators "will never go into operation". Li said he was willing to make incinerator operation an "option". This problem is the touchstone for Tsai Ing-wen's joint regional governance, and shows that green camp joint regional governance is easier said than done.
So-called "joint regional governance" based self-government and urban planning is nothing new. The UK has promoted it for over a century. The idea is to share resources and economic benefits within a given geographical region. But Tsai Ing-wen convened a joint regional governance meeting in April. She boasted that "Thirteen green-ruled counties would jointly resist the central government". This is clearly contrary to the spirit of joint regional governance.
Taiwan has made use of joint regional governance for some time in regional planning. This optimizes land use and addresses the limitations of county and city level comprehensive development planning. It unites interdependent neighboring counties, and enables them to share benefits rooted in geography, population, natural resources, and economic activity. The regional planning system has been around for years. The regional planning system was obviously not motivated by any desire to "resist the central government".
Yunlin county's about face on incinerators, reveals the political calculations behind the green camp's joint regional governance proposal. Former County Chief Chang Jung-wei outsourced Linnei Incinerator construction. Successor Su Chih-fen cited EIA and bribery as justifications for tearing up the contract. The incinerators would "not go into operation, but merely held in reserve". Li Jing-yung declared on the eve of the election that it would "never be put into operation". Unfortunately Yunlin originally commissioned Kaohsiung, Chiayi, and Ilan counties to handle incineration on its behalf. These are all green camp ruled cities and counties. Why are they now citing reasons not to continue doing so? Garbage is now piling up in Yunlin. Besides cost, one reason is other counties think Yunlin should use its own incinerators, which it built but refuses to put into operation. They think this is unreasonable.
Also, some townships in Yunlin have refused to implement county government orders. They refuse to collect garbage from ordinary citizens, while collecting industrial waste on the sly. The result is garbage piling up in the streets. This shows the evils of local government parochialism. Yunlin refuses to clean up its own mess. It wants to pass the buck to the central government. it wants the central government to solve the problem on its behalf. This is clearly unacceptable. If the DPP is serious about joint regional governance, why isn't it coordinating with Tsai Ing-wen to solve the problem?
Last year the green camp won 13 seats in the nine in one county and municipal elections. They immediately established a joint regional governance platform. This platform includes a DPP Central Committee joint governance office, as well as key staffers appointed by green camp county chiefs and city mayors. But so far, county chiefs and city mayors have done nothing except besiege the central government. They demand money and power. Li Jing-yung persuaded six counties in central Taiwan to sign an agreement banning the burning of bituminous coal. He led a fight against the central government and industry, but has done nothing to advance joint regional governance. He has no plans to cooperate with anyone in industry, in order to increase employment.
Conceptually, joint regional governance is a good idea. Its aim is to transcend the limitations of administrative districts. Its aim is to enables regional governments to seek out neighboring districts with complementary resources, and shatter the model of top-down central government rule. For example, the Chinese National Federation of Industries recently revealed that Taiwan suffers from shortages in six areas, including power shortages which cannot be solved at the county level. Other issues, such as central Taiwan hogging water resources, can sometimes be resolved through counties coordinating their resources. This is the intent of joint regional governance.
Social housing is also part of Tsai Ing-wen's joint regional governance proposal. But the population of counties and municipalities impose objective limits. Detailed calculations of public infrastructure capacities are required. The same is true for urban planning, which must respond to local living environments. The actual needs of local populations should determine the appropriate sites for social housing. City government operations include many "dirty jobs"" that must be dealt with. These include household garbage collection. Garbage collection is of course the responsibility of counties and municipalities. After all, "no border crossings" is fundamental to waste management. It must not be conducted at the expense of others. Yunlin has incinerators it is not using. It refuses to pay market prices for incineration. This smacks of chicanery.
Another example is measures taken against mosquitoes carrying Dengue fever. The premise is that each administrative district must establish firewalls. These firewalls may be information security firewalls or construction material firewalls. They are all intended to prevent the spread of undesirable elements. Each district is charged with its own epidemic control, with preventing a wildfire. These too are problems that cannot be solved by zone defense. Joint regional governance cannot solve such problems. It will not advance the common interest of neighboring regions. It could even drag neighboring regions down.
Joint regional governance can make better use of local infrastructure and resources. That is undeniable. It can combine administrative organization and human resources, increasing development potential or competitiveness. But joint regional governance must solve problems jointly, and not just pick fights with the central government. Otherwise positive change will be impossible. The DPP has praised joint regional governance to the skies. But it has turned a blind eye to Yunlin's garbage incineration problem. That is why one knows the DPP has marched down the wrong path.