MOEA runs Kuokuang hearing into the ground
By Severia Lu, Janis Wang
The legislature Recently passed a resolution under the Administrative Procedure Act (行政程序法) requiring the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) to hold a legislative hearing on the Kuokuang Petrochemical case within two months. It subsequently passed a motion stipulating that at least one preparatory hearing be held before the legislative hearing.
Public reaction was originally quite positive because transparency and public engagement are needed for issues this controversial and it would be the first time in Taiwan a hearing of this kind had been required, aimed at clearing up any contentious issues through a thorough discussion.
However, the ministry held the legislative hearing in Dacheng, Changhua County, yesterday, amid angry — and sporadically violent — scenes outside as many people were denied access because of the high turnout. And, according to our understanding, those who could enter were limited to three minutes in which to voice their opinions. There was no preparatory hearing.
Yesterday’s events attest to the uniqueness of the Kuokuang case and the special handling it requires. Not only is the case hugely complicated, it has also been highly controversial, not only among members of the public, but also among thousands of academics and members of Academia Sinica.
While it is true that Article 58 of the Administrative Procedure Act allows administrative bodies to use their own discretion in holding these preparatory hearings, the MOEA’s perfunctory approach to this process has been a waste of legislative resources and an insult to the intent of the act.
The format of the legislative hearing the ministry insisted upon was little different from other public hearings we have seen related to this case, held under the requirements of the Environmental Impact Assessment Act (環境影響評估法). Each side gets to say, or rather shout, their piece, and the exchange just descends into an ideological slinging match that goes nowhere. This shows the importance of a preparatory hearing, in which each side is allowed to present their main points, focus on the contentious issues and exchange information. Then, the objective of the legislative hearing is to enable the government to obtain the pertinent facts before it makes any decisions.
The ministry’s International Trade Commission (ITC) frequently holds administrative hearings, so the ministry clearly has a lot of expertise and experience in such things. However, the MOEA appears to have decided not to allow pertinent information to be considered on the Kuokuang case and to not allow other parties to participate in the process. These are little more than ploys to reduce potential controversy and risks.
If the government were really interested in hearing what the public had to say and in clearing up any issues and impacts this project would have on the lives and health of those who came to the hearing to voice their concerns, it would expect the MOEA to do its job and hold a meaningful legislative hearing conducted in a proper manner. The ministry should have had a preparatory hearing, and could have involved other government bodies. This would have ensured that the original intent of the Administrative Procedure Act was fulfilled, and would also have avoided further conflict.
Instead, the MOEA has tried to manipulate the system and, in doing so, demonstrated its contempt for a resolution made in the nation’s legislature. It has trampled roughshod over the Administrative Procedure Act and seriously damaged public trust in the nation’s administrative institutions.
Severia Lu is an attorney at the Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association. Janis Wang is a representative at the association.
TRANSLATED BY PAUL COOPER
Factions clash at Kuokuang hearing