Monday, May 17, 2010

Things that get buried

Sometimes important pieces of information that probably belong on the front page bet “buried” inside the paper, which means that they will not attract as much attention and receive the consideration that they deserve. One such bit of info appeared in the lead story on page three of the Taipei Times on Sunday, which I happened to edit. Admittedly, the story tops the political page, but the pithy part is hidden halfway in:

In the past two years, 373 administrative orders involving China took effect without review from the legislature. Only 3.75 percent of administrative orders went through the legislature, information from [Taiwan Thinktank] showed.

The Council of Labor Affairs, for example, amended the Act Governing Approval for Mainland Area Professionals to Engage in Professional Activities in Taiwan (大陸地區專業人士來台從事專業活動許可辦法) last year and again this year to allow Chinese nationals conducting business in Taiwan to stay longer, she said.

The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said that Chinese companies investing US$33 million are allowed to send a maximum of seven managerial staff members to Taiwan.

However, the amendment said that Chinese-invested firms in Taiwan can receive an unlimited number of Chinese professionals as long as they are considered to be “making a contribution” to the local economy, job market and society and obtain the approval of government agencies.

So here we are: Only 3.75 percent of all administrative orders have been reviewed by the organ that supposedly keeps the government in check. And yet, Presidential Office Spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) was telling reporters on Sunday that “All official dealings with China are supervised by the legislature … Everything is open and transparent.”

Not only are orders not being monitored by the legislature, but amendments are being made that are so vague — intentionally so — that they can open doors to all kinds of abuse. Much as the “in the public interest” clause in the Computer-Processed Personal Data Protection Act (電腦保護個人資料處理法), amended on April 27, is vague enough to allow government authorities to interpret it in a manner that suits their needs, the amendment to the Act Governing Approval for Mainland Area Professionals to Engage in Professional Activities in Taiwan uses language (“making a contribution”) that can mean anything. What are “contributions” and who is the judge of that?

As I wrote in my review of Christine Loh’s (陸恭蕙) study of the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong, Underground Front, the danger of signing agreements Beijing-style is that everything is vague and open to interpretation — by those in power. Again, the entire negotiation process during the 1980s, in which the UK and Beijing prepared the terrain for handover in 1997, should be closely studied by Taiwanese watchers, as history appears to be repeating itself. One complaint on the British side and among those in Hong Kong who worried about their future, was that everything was done behind closed doors, by unelected elite with close ties to the business world, with little oversight or supervision, no public consultation. And a heavy does of vagueness.

The legislature has been sidelined, its speaker rendered obsolete by his willingness to please the Executive, and as a result Taiwan’s democracy is being dismembered before our eyes. The Presidential Office is feeding us lies, which sadly many people appear to be swallowing. Is this in the “public interest”? Is this making a “contribution”?

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