1993 / 11月
Laura Li /photos courtesy of Vincent Chang /tr. by Phil Newell
The Taipei County Department of Education was recently be devilled by a dispute as to whose appointee should become its director. in Ilan County the movie theaters don't play the national anthem before the film. Many major investment projects which have been praised by the Ministry of Economic Affairs go up in smoke when it comes to building the facilities at the local level. Do you know what this all means? It's local self-government.
Accelerating local self-government is one of the major objectives of the cabinet of Premier Lien Chan. The Executive Yuan has drafted the "Provincial and County Self-Government Law" and the "Special Municipalities Self-Government Law," and sent these to the Legislative Yuan for deliberation. Will they provide the opportunity for a transformation?
As winter approaches, the election campaign for city and county executives is arriving with it. "Explosion" would be a suitable term to describe participation in the campaign. At least 100 people have expressed their desire to run for the 21 city and county executive posts. The platforms of a number of incumbents have attracted island-wide attention. The mayor of Hsinchu has a plan to build a "Cultural and Technological Metropolis" with a budget of NT$100 billion (about US$4 billion). In Ilan County the emphasis is on humanism, tourism, and identification with local traditions. And Taichung City, now part of Taiwan Province, is hoping to be placed on the same level as Taipei and Kaohsiung, which are special municipalities equivalent to provinces.
Behind these appeals is an emphasis on autonomy for the localities in terms of personnel, funding, and powers and responsibilities, as well as the development of the special characteristics of each place.
Nevertheless, the local elections seem "not quite up to snuff" compared to races to the central level parliamentary bodies. There is one school of thought that says that both call for talented persons. But those serving at the central level are seen as "pillars of society, displaying their talents for all to see," while these at the local level are considered "buried."
Since both represent the voters, why is there a status distinction? "No men, no money, no power. Even if there is just as much courage and character at the local level, and as much love for the land and people, everything just gets rubbed out," says one individual who formerly served as a county executive. Today, comfortably ensconced in his central government official's office, he describes his former days as "hectic from start to finish, yet I was often so frustrated or felt so powerless that I was unable to sleep at night."There oughtta be a law!
The government has long been interested in returning government to the people through local autonomy. So why is there still such grumbling?
"The main reason is that the reality does not fit the theory, and there is no legal foundation," says legislator Kao Yu-jen, who has served as Tainan County executive, vice-minister of the Interior, director of the Depatment of Civil Affairs in the Taiwan Provincial Government, and speaker of the Taiwan Provincial Assembly.
Looking through The Thought of Dr. Sun Yatsen, it is clearly written that "local self-government is the bedrock of the nation" and "the central and local governments should share powers equally." The Constitution also stipulates that after the Legislative Yuan passes the "Principles for Local Self-Government," each province and county could then call an assembly of representatives of the people of the given area. These assemblies would then pass the equivalent of a provincial or county-level "constitution," fitting local needs, and thus establish local self-government.
This scheme seemed reasonable as it was intended for a China with 36 provinces. It would have permitted the establishment of a unitary central government as the sovereign power, but also permitted each area to adapt with due consideration given to the local history, culture, economy, and natural environment. At the same time, training and cultivation of democracy could take place at the base level through elections to local offices.
However, after the government came to Taiwan in 1949, a state of emergency was declared, changing everything. The "Principles for Local Self-Government" already being deliberated by the Legislative Yuan were shelved. They have been put off for more than 40 years. Though local self-government has been implemented on schedule, its only legal foundation has been the literally paperthin (only one page long) executive order "Main Points for Implementation of Local Self-Government by the Cities and Counties of Taiwan Province." Even the most basic laws for provincial level government have been held up.
In the absence of a legal foundation, inevitably the division of powers and responsibilities between various levels of government has been unclear, causing frequent disputes. During the state of emergency, these disputes were often resolved or regulated by resort to administrative decrees at the central level. The lower levels of government had no basis for making objections.
In order to rectify the current situation in which the "reality" of self-government "doesn't fit the theory," the Ministry of the Interior has sprung into action. Based on resolutions made after the amending of the Constitution by the Second National Assembly last year, the MOI sent the draft "Provincial and County Self-Government Law" to the Legislative Yuan for deliberation in April of this year. It is hoped that through codification there can be a "rectification of names" in the realm of local autonomy.Sending aides and assistants to the local level:
"Codification" is just a process. It is too early to say whether a new law will be useful in clarifying disputes over the division of power between each level of government. This is because there are 64 existing laws and regulations relevant to local self-rule, under the jurisdiction of a variety of agencies, which have not yet been overhauled and amended.
Manpower, Money, Power. These are the items at the heart of all the arguments.
"The ideal of local self-government is to use local monies and personnel to handle local matters in accordance with the desires of the residents," points out Po Ching-chiu, a professor in the Department of Public Administration at National Cheng-chih University. But the first contradiction that arises is that the local leader is nominally expected to be responsible for succeeding or failing in implenting government policy, but he usually can't even select his own aides and assistants.
Taking the Taiwan Provincial Government for example, in terms of the hiring and firing of personnel, currently the provincial governor is appointed by the central government, and changes in the directors of the departments in the provincial administration must be approved by the Executive Yuan. The "province" is actually just the agent for implementing central level policies everywhere but in the special municipalities of Taipei and Kaohsiung (which are directly under the central government). Naturally, this more or less guts the powers reserved to local governments.
Fortunately, the draft Province and County Local Self-Government Law addresses this problem. The Ministry of the Interior states that it is very likely there will be direct election of the provincial governor in the future. This can be put into effect as soon as the Self-Government Law is passed by the Legislative Yuan. At that time the provincial governor will have far more autonomy in the selection of department heads. Not only that, the Self-Government Law also has provisions for two lieutenant governors, one of whom comes and goes with the governor, the other of whom is a career civil servant. These can take some of the workload off the governor.
However, "since there is a lieutenant governor who will follow the governor into and out of office, the logical thing would be for the governor to select that person himself, and he or she could take office after approval by the Provincial Assembly. But the draft of the Self-Government Law stipulates that this person must be approved by the Executive Yuan, and then formally appointed by the President. This is simply not letting go of matters in which the 'province' should be autonomous," says Hsu Hsin-chih, a member of the Control Yuan who has served as Taoyuan County executive and director of the Department of Civil Affairs in the Taiwan Provincial Government. This sort of "delegation of authority" is, in the end, only half-hearted.
The province is still unable to control its own personnel matters. Similarly, autonomy in personnel choices at the county and city level has been largely usurped by the province.Nobody knows the trouble I've seen:
At present, the officials serving under the city or county executive are divided into those the executive can transfer and oversee, and those he or she "can neither move nor control." For example, the directors of the county bureaus for education, finance, and police, the county government directors of auditing and personnel, and even the principals and inspectors for county primary schools are all directly appointed by the provincial government.
"Early on these personnel could come and go as they pleased, and the county or city executive had no right to inquire into their affairs," reveals Hsu Hsin-chih. Twenty years ago when he was the Taoyuan County magistrate, the director of the Bureau of Finance, a former classmate and good friend, was transferred by the provincial government; the first Hsu heard of it was when he read it in the papers.
Chen Ting-nan, a legislator whose achievements as executive of Ilan County drew a great deal of attention, says that seven or eight years ago this applied not only to top officials; even low-level supervisors at civil service rating 5 with no connection to the most important posts had to be approved by the provincial government before they could be brought in. Fortunately, after years of contention, the situation has slightly improved. Today it is no longer necessary to get approval from the central government for anyone below civil service level 8. And with regard to the top officials who can make or break the administration of a city or county, the executive has more room to haggle if he or she does not approve of the individual selected by the provincial government. The more influential chiefs can even recommend candidates and ask the provincial government to formally appoint them.
Despite these improvements, there are many gaps in self-rule when it comes to hiring and firing, so it's no surprise that local officials feel a sense of powerlessness.
Not long ago, Taipei County executive You Ching wanted to hire Lin Yu-yi, a professor from National Normal University (the elite teaching university), as director of the county Bureau of Education. The provincial government rejected him on the grounds that his qualifications were not suitable, and assigned someone else. This led to a conflict over which appointee should take office, and for a time relations between the two sides were strained.
Because the lack of power over the employment and dismissal of personnel is the thing that city and county executives find most objectionable, in the plan to realize local autonomy the Ministry of the Interior intends to greatly broaden the powers of the executives in this respect. Except for the personnel, auditing, and police agencies, which legally fall under the special "single line of authority" system and thus cannot be easily altered, there will be "substantial respect" for the choices of the city or county chief for all other positions, for which the original administrative orders have been changed. This is still far removed from Chen Tingnan's ideal for a "county cabinet," in which all top administrators come and go with the executive, need not be approved by the provincial government, and are not bound by the civil service regulations on qualifications but are seen as political appointees. But at least it's some improvement.Second class civil servants:
Not only do disputes over the power to hire and fire personnel have an impact on the success or failure of county administrations, the unequal rank of central and local officials causes local officials to think of themselves as "second class civil servants." Morale has been greatly affected.
Po Ching-chiu notes that all civil servants must pass the examinations, and on the surface there is no distinction between central and local personnel. But entire careers can depend on the post-examination assignment. For those serving in county and city governments, with the exception of chief secretary, the highest one can go is to level 9, equivalent to only a minor office supervisor in a central level ministry. Only in Taipei County, with a registered population in excess of 1.5 million (and an actual population of 3.19 million; 400,000 more than Taipei City) are top level county officials given the perquisites of chien-jen civil servants: (Chien-jen, or "special appointment rank," is the second highest rating in the modern ROC civil service.)
Lai Wen-chi, chief secretary of the Nantou County government, has some deep-seated feelings on this. He says that there are 50O government workers in Nantou, but he is the only chien-jen official. But in a central level ministry with 400 or 500 employees, there are chien-jen level office directors, section chiefs, and staff members all over the place. "Why would talented people want to get stuck at the local level?" It's no wonder that those who pass the higher level civil service examination use every means possible to get posted to the central government. And central level officials fear nothing more than being transferred to local agencies, where opportunities for advancement are greatly reduced.
Local personnel problems have been the subject of debate for some time now. There is perhaps finally light at the end of the tunnel. Chiu Chuang-huan, the current President of the Examination Yuan and a former provincial governor, has recently stated that the Examination Yuan is examining ways to raise the job gradings of local civil servants. This would have a wide impact, as it is estimated that 70,000 local government workers could be upgraded. This will be of great help in retaining talented people at the local level and in strengthening personnel flow between the central and regional levels.
Another problem connected to the question of "manpower" is the issue of the organizational structure of local governments.
Current regulations governing the organization of city and county governments are based on population and degree of economic development. These often cannot be adapted to local conditions, and the localities are not permitted any flexibility. For example, Panchiao City, today with a population of 540,000, is under the jurisdiction of the Taipei County, so that in the organizational charts it gets only one public health clinic, just like a 3,000 person township in a typical county. Meanwhile, Keelung City, with a population no greater than 360,000, is directly under the provincial government (which is to say equivalent in status to a county), so it is alloted seven clinics. Kao Yu-jen says frankly of this unreasonable situation: "People couldn't care less if their city is under the jurisdiction of a county or is directly under the provincial government; they just want to be able to get the most efficient services!"Those who shovel out the stables never get to ride the horses:
"Manpower" problems are serious enough, but "money" problems are even more of a headache. Some describe the situation as "the central government lives in the lap of luxury, the localities beg on the street."
Po Ching-chiu points out that the current revenue system is divided into national taxes, provincial taxes, and county or city taxes. City and county levies are mostly property taxes, such as the land assessment tax, the land value-added tax (not collected for sales of farmland), taxes on homes and buildings, and so on. Compared to national taxes (income, sales, and customs duties), which grow with expansion in the economy and in personal incomes, the rate of increase in city and county revenues has been very low.
In a meeting of city and county executives, most of the local chiefs expressed hope that in the future 10% of income taxes will be hived off for the localities, with another 10% given to the province. In particular, those counties with factories work every day to collect the factory waste, but cannot share in even the operations taxes or merchandise taxes paid by these firms. It's a classic case of "those who shovel out the stables never get to ride the horses." This creates dissatisfaction at the local level. But the distribution of tax revenues is bound up with the "Methods for Tax Revenue Distribution" set by the Ministry of Finance. It would be very troublesome to revise the regulations.
Statistics show that more than half the counties or cities in Taiwan Province have poor land and poor people. Total taxes collected in these areas (including national, provincial, and city and county duties) are not adequate for covering expenses. Of these, seven cities and counties must rely on outside help even to pay the nominal salaries of their employees. Clearly they cannot manage to be "self-sufficient and self-governing."
Not only do the localities lack money; the center sometimes adds to their burdens.
For example, the central government stipulates that the land reserved for infrastructure projects in all cities and counties must be acquired beforehand. But taking Miaoli, for example, the total cost of acquisitions was NT$ 12.8 billion. After accounting for various subsidies, the county government was still responsible for NT$3 billion. Where would they get such a huge sum? In the end they had to borrow NT$1.5 billion from the provincial coffers, with the principal and interest creating an immediate deterioration in county finances. Further, land that could only be acquired through the destruction of private homes was just left there because there was no money left for construction. This angered the citizens, and the county government was at a loss for how to respond.A county government and its money are soon parted:
To resolve the problem of the disparity in wealth between urban and rural areas, the provincial government has adopted a system of "central collection of taxes with redistribution of funds." For those cities and counties with less developed economies, or with severe population outflow, the redistribution of funds is of course the best possible plan. But the money is not there just for the asking. Often expenses that are considered vital at the local level are not seen as such by the center. Sometimes the funds are given with so many restrictions as to how they might be spent that it is hard for the local government to put them to use.
Currently the Ministry of Education, acting under the instructions of President Lee Teng-hui, has appropriated a fund of NT$4 billion to specially assist primary and middle schools to build new toilets. The result has been that many classrooms have been torn down with a great deal of waste, but still there are no luxurious new toilets.
Because the subsidy is appropriated by the higher levels, it is almost inevitable that local governments have the mindset that they should "get while the getting is good." And because most of the items for which the higher levels provide subsidies are "hardware," most local government officials devote their attention to bridge-building or road-paving, with immediately visible results. Meanwhile, planning for truly unique natural or human resources is largely ignored.
Furthermore, argues Po Ching-chiu, local governments are accustomed to handouts, and are not willing to devise new ways to raise money. Take for example the construction profit tax that local governments could always levy. After the minimum tax was rescinded in 1987, in order to appease constituents, many cities and counties halted collection altogether. Actions like this have caused their financial condition to deteriorate further.
A lack of manpower and money has made it impossible for local governments to fulfill their roles. When you add on the limitations on their powers, the space for action by local governments becomes even narrower.Always a higher power:
Hsu Hsin-chih points out that after any new laws or regulations are passed by a local "self-governing" area, they must still be sent to the next higher level for perusal. If the higher level determines that the resolution in question is in conflict with any law or administrative order issued by this higher stratum (including both formal legislation and administrative orders issued by bureaucracies), it can declare the resolution invalid.
Hsu believes that if one really wants to respect the opinion of local voters and the resolutions of local assemblies, there should be no interference unless there is a conflict with formal legislation. Moreover, whether or not there is a conflict is often a matter of dispute. in the interests of fairness, most advanced nations ask the Ministry of Justice or the courts to arbitrate. But in Taiwan the higher level makes the judgements. This means that one of the interested parties is also serving as the judge, which is naturally inappropriate. Unfortunately, the new Self-Government Law has not yet altered this situation.
Hsieh Chin-ting, director of the Department of Civil Affairs in the Taiwan Provincial Government, offers the following example: When Premier Lien Chan was provincial governor, in order to assist farmers and realize the ideal of the "prosperous and beautiful farming village," he repeatedly asked the central government to raise the purchasing price for rice and to increase the amount purchased. The rice purchasing price problem was finally resolved only when Governor Lien became premier.
Just as the province is in the grip of the center, so the counties and cities are under the control of the province. Lin Po-jung, the Taichung City mayor, who has often convened task forces of city and county chiefs to explore how to strengthen local autonomy, still feels perplexed and annoyed at rules which require the counties and cities to get the approval of the provincial government even to buy a vehicle or to send a staff member abroad for an observation trip.Don't ask, just act:
Lin Po-jung goes a step further and notes that because there is no clear, written declaration of what the limits to the autonomy of a city or county executive are, on many occasions, "when the county government reports what it wants to do to the provincial government, it may get a different response from the one that it got the year before. Whether or not something is approved depends to a large extent on the arbitrary choices of the person in charge of the case, or on personal connections."
With this in mind, after Lin again became mayor of Taichung, anytime he came across a situation where something that he wanted to do was not expressly and clearly forbidden, he would just take it upon himself to act; he no longer asked for approval for each and every matter. For example, more than three years ago Taichung City instituted an unemployment relief fund. They did so based on the stipulation in the "Outline for Self-Government" that "county charitable affairs and social assistance" are items that fall under county self-government. The results were so good that the Council on Labor Affairs called him in for consultation.
"Of course, we were only able to do it because Taichung City's own tax revenues were sufficient, and we didn't have to hold our hand out to the provincial government. But at that time if we hadn't just dared to decide on our own, and had first applied to the provincial government, I'm afraid we never would have pulled it off," says Lin. It's hard to miss the self-satisfaction in his voice.
Hsinchu City executive Tung Sheng-nan, who has finished first in repeated public opinion surveys on the degree of satisfaction with government officials, presented a comprehensive plan to the higher levels asking for funding. Lin Sung, director of the county government secretariat, relates that Tung set targets of "establishing one public park every two months," and "one public school each year," with an estimated maximum class size of 40 children. "The central government has a maximum of 48 students, but if the locality can do even better, then why not?!" wonders Lin Sung.
Su Chen-chang, chief executive in Pingtung County, "sneaked out ahead" even before the Ministry of Education approved of bilingual education. With an eye to the many ethnic groups in Pingtung, he initiated bilingual education simultaneously in Taiwanese, Hakka, Rukai, and Paiwan (each in combination with Mandarin Chinese), getting quite a response.
Few city and county executives would deny it: "You can only win if you seize the initiative." In particular, in the eyes of the voters, the more aggressively executives struggle, the more ambitious and responsible they seem. The "Chen Ting-nan effect" has been pervasive. The passive attitude of executives of old, who "had no money, had no power, and were happy just to while away the time," can no longer satisfy the electorate.The people are the best judges:
"Affairs are decided by men." One provincial government official says with the eye of an objective observer, "Many cities and counties have never been managed with real dedication, so if someone with determination comes along, it isn't necessarily so difficult to turn a county around in a four-year term." He contends that the central government now fully comprehends the importance of devolving power and implementing local self-government. For city and county executives who really want to get things done, this has been a shot in the arm.
To come back to where we started, if localities get the manpower, the money, and the power, can they truly achieve the goal of "managing themselves and taking responsibility for themselves"? No one dares say. Many scholars, even as they extol implementation of local self-government, are also concerned about the declining quality of local government. With local governments often under the control of moneyed interests, local political machines, or even gangsters, what will self-government really look like?
"There's no need to be overly concerned about this point," says Kao Yu-jen. There are talented people at the local level, and with the spread of education and the availability of information, the voters have the ability to compare and judge. "The election for city and county executives every four years is the judgement."
Hsu Hsin-chih says straight out that if you don't trust people at the local level to govern themselves, then you shouldn't even bother to talk about local self-government. But Chen Ting-nan argues that a change of attitude is urgently needed. He emphasizes that the government at each level has been granted its power by the people under its jurisdiction to handle local affairs. Thus the relationship between higher and lower levels of government should not be one of "subordination" or "supervision," but of "equal sharing of powers" in a "cooperative division of labor." The work of supervision is for the media and the voters. But many scholars suggest that the central government is still using the jargon of "supervision of self-government" in the new draft Self-Government Law to impose limits on the localities. This attitude needs to be revised.
Local self-government is approaching a watershed moment of codification. The bill is currently in the Legislative Yuan awaiting deliberation. But there is still quite a way to go before it can be decided how to amend it to make it a positive, beneficial law, and how to truly realize it in practice.
Merely a bridge apart, these communities are separated into two different administrative areas, enabling their chiefs to display different styles and blueprints for construction. The people will serve as the best judges of what is better. The photo shows the Chingmei Bridge linking Taipei City and Taipei County.
The Taiwan Area Athletic Meet, held annually, is an opportunity for the host city or county to receive large subsidies from the central government, so all of them compete to capture the games. This year Taoyuan County spent over NT$2 billion for its facilities.
In 1946, the First Provincial Assembly was established. Some of the members were elected, some appointed by the central government. They left this precious commemorative photo from the site at which the assembly then met (on what is now Chuanchow Street in Taipei City). (photo courtesy of the data center of the Provincial Assembly)
Provincial Assemblymen generally make their names through their style in interpellations, and government administrators never take interpellations lightly. But when it comes to the power of legislation, the Assembly has not functioned effectively due to a variety of limitations.
In the village and neighborhood assemblies, the residents can speak out to their hearts' content. On the one hand this solidifies community spirit, and on the other it provides training in democracy. This is the first step in implementing local self-government. (photo by Diago Chiu)
The Current Structure of Local Government in Taiwan
*Local government within Taiwan currently has a four-tier structure. Terms printed in blue refer to administrative areas with the status of Self-governing legal entities. The figures in parentheses are the numbers of each type of administrative unit.
(chart by Lee Su-ling)
The year-end elections for county executives are upon us. The candidates strive to get the support of their constituencies, but can they get local autonomy and govern well?