1998 / 10月
Marlene Chen /tr. by David Toman
In September, a breakthrough was ef-fected in the "government reorganization project" that will have tremendous impact on government efficiency, as well on as national fitness and competitiveness. On September 7, the third "Provincial Streamlining Work Meeting" of the Executive Yuan passed the "Temporary Provisions Governing Streamlining the Functions and Organization of the Taiwan Provincial Government." With expected ratification of the "Provisions" by the Legislative Yuan on October 15, the legal basis for provincial government streamlining shall thus be in place.
The Kuomintang (KMT) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) reached common ground on the provincial government issue during constitutional revision sessions held in July 1997. As a result, government streamlining work will officially commence on December 21, 1998. Nevertheless, due to the magnitude of the task, the time-consuming legislative and constitutional processes, and constant backlashes from the provincial government, the road to streamlining has thus far been fraught with difficulty.
Provincial governor James Soong has on multiple occasions addressed comments to the central government, stressing the functions of the provincial government and the rights and interests of his constituents. A number of provincial government employees banded together to form an employees' rights self-help league, taking to the streets on August 27th to deliver their message of "seeking progress amidst stability, appealing for empathy with reason."
Despite common starting points, the provincial and central governments have often found themselves at loggerheads over the past year or more. During his final work report to the provincial assembly, Governor James Soong stressed that both he and provincial government employees deeply appreciate and support the need for government reorganization and streamlining, but that provincial government streamlining cannot be taken as the equivalent of "dismantling," "hollowing out," "freezing," or for that matter "rejection" of the provincial government. Further, he added that provincial government civil servants have all been retained according to law via national civil service examinations, and as such deserve due consideration of their rights and feelings.
In response to provincial government appeals, high-level central government officials have not only stressed that provincial streamlining does not equal eradication or freezing of the provincial government, but have also introduced generous measures to protect the interests of provincial government employees. Minister of the Interior Huang Chu-wen took these promises one step further, stating on August 25 that the draft bill of the streamlining provisions contains multiple safeguards for provincial government workers' rights and privileges, including early retirement for those with 20 years of service, 12 months in additional severance pay per worker, and a freeze on new recruitment of central and provincial government personnel, so as to allow subsequent placement of provincial government employees. If, despite these safeguards, provincial government employees remain dissatisfied, Huang said he would be willing to step down from his post without pay.
While much hubbub has surrounded several high-level discussions Soong has held with President Lee Teng-hui and Premier Vincent Siew, with the recent passage of the "Temporary Provisions Governing Streamlining the Functions and Organization of the Taiwan Provincial Government" by the Executive Yuan, the situation is taking shape.
In the future, the provincial government and its constituent agencies and schools will be downsized, merged, reassigned jurisdiction, reorganized, dismantled, or turned over to private operation. Former provincial government tasks shall be handled case-by-case, or assigned to relevant departments in the central government, or various counties and municipalities of Taiwan Province.
Given that following downsizing, numerous tasks will be handed over to local governments, county magistrates and city mayors are naturally deeply interested in related developments. Consequently, the Ministry of the Interior has solicited opinions from county and city chiefs on behalf of the Executive Yuan.
A number of county magistrates and city mayors feel that in response to increased burdens, each county or city administration should be alloted two deputy administrators, and that top-level civil administrators should be appointed by the local elected officials. Taipei County magistrate Su Chen-chang holds that the Executive Yuan and local counties and cities should each establish mediation task forces to facilitate interaction with the Executive Yuan and speed the flow of documents by bypassing the provincial government.
Where former provincial government tasks are concerned, Hualien County magistrate Wang Ching-feng notes that in order to prevent local governments from causing tensions due to local parochialism where national issues such as water resource allocation, refuse treatment, and social welfare are concerned, the central government should exercise jurisdiction. On the other hand, Wang believes that such tasks as city planning are best left to local authorities.
As for whether or not administrative regions should be redrawn following provincial streamlining, many county magistrates and city mayors favor the wholesale elimination of provincial jurisdiction. Taoyuan County magistrate Annette Lu believes that existing administrative regions should be thrown out, and a two-tier system of counties and cities on the one hand and the central government on the other should be established, with the boundaries of the counties and cities re-drawn according to population.
In response to suggestions by county magistrates and city mayors, premier Vincent Siew notes that conditions of administrative autonomy vary among Taiwan's 21 counties and cities, and that while it is necessary to readjust administrative zones, the draft bill on administrative regional zoning that would supercede the "local government organization provisions" under the Provincial and County Government Self-government Law has yet to be passed, necessitating accelerated review by the Legislative Yuan.
Financial administration is also a main focus of discussion among local county and city chiefs, most of whom hold the opinion that priority allocation of a portion of tax revenues should be given to local authorities. Meanwhile, they are also fighting hard for non-public property currently held by the provincial government to be put in the hands of local authorities. As for expenditures, prominent elected officials including Chiayi City mayor Chang Po-ya and Kaohsiung County magistrate Yu Cheng-hsien agree that expenditures for areas that in Taiwan are governed by central agencies-including education, police administration, fire fighting, and social welfare-should fall under central government responsibility.
Nevertheless, according to the recently passed provisions on provincial government streamlining, public property held by the provincial government will be transferred in line with reassignment of administrative jurisdiction, and non-public property will be assumed by the state except where it will continue to be held by the provincial government. As for tax revenue, the Ministry of Finance declared that the provincial government budget will be incorporated into the overall central government budget, while provincial sales tax will become national tax, to be allocated directly by the central government to local cities and counties.
Premier Siew gave assurances that the details of financial administration will be ironed out no later than December 1. The question of whether the provincial government will assume the status of a public corporation must also be worked out as soon as possible. If Taiwan Province does take on such a status, then administration of provincial enterprises will be assumed by the state. At this time, provincial authorities and the Ministry of the Interior hold diverging views on this issue, and it will be up to a Council of Grand Justices to settle the impasse with a legal interpretation.
With provincial government streamlining slowly getting underway, Premier Vincent Siew stresses that over the past 50 years the bulky four-tier government structure of tiny Taiwan has hardly changed. Hence in order to confront the challenges at hand, government reorganization must be undertaken. In addition to the "Temporary Provisions Governing Streamlining the Functions and Organization of the Taiwan Provincial Government," other basic legal frameworks must be established. Siew said that while the road to reorganization is long, the government is striding forward at an accelerated pace.
Hoping to protect their interests, provincial government workers take to the streets.