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Is Interior Minister Lee a Don Quixote or a publicist?

Interior Minister Lee Hong-yuan, formerly a minister of the cabinet-level Public Construction Commission, known for his detailed diagnosis of the land subsidence problem plaguing a long stretch of the Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) in southern Taiwan, was recently called a dreamer of unrealistic dreams by a hardnosed talk show host.

Lee's primary offense, it appears, was that he made an appearance on the talk show to push for the passage of three bills now being discussed within the Legislature, namely the “National Land Planning Act,” “Sea Coast Act” and the “Wetland Act.”

While acknowledging that “people” may not agree with the inclusion of a “disaster prevention map” in the National Land Planning Act, which would mark off “hazardous areas” in which commercial development will be prohibited, Lee said he was hoping he could persuade the “people” to change their minds.

The fast-mouthed talk show host's rapid-fire response was “(But) aren't you dreaming some unrealistic dreams?” The host went on to say that even though “people” may change their minds, the lawmakers would not.

Other speakers chimed in, criticizing Lee for minding things not considered “immediate concerns.”

Recently, Lee's ministry also released a draft amendment to the “Urban Renewal Regulations” in the aftermath of the brouhaha over the forcible demolition of two private homes in Taipei, despite the owners' refusal to accept the terms offered by the developer.

The Ministry of the Interior's (MOI) amendment, if it becomes law, would require developers to wait until the demolition of all structures on land earmarked for urban renewal before announcing a pre-sale of homes to be built on the designated tracts of land.

The proposed amendment immediately drew fire from a major land developer, who called it a government attempt to pass on the unpleasant tasks of land acquisition and eviction of diehard holdouts to developers.

One suspects the actual “crux of the matter” in all these exchanges and pronouncements is that the “people” who Lee claims to be up against actually refer to “special interests,” i.e. land developers. If this is the case, Lee is indeed “a dreamer of unrealistic dreams” up against a formidable alliance of powerful people and people with money to buy power. Lee's efforts will most likely henceforth be unceasingly Sisyphean.

Given such a scenario, some optimists would hope for an intervention by President Ma Ying-jeou, who, after all, is the head of the majority party in the Legislature. But a look at the recent impasses over the import of U.S. beef should be enough to deter anyone, except perhaps a genuine Don Quixote in shinning armor, from trying. Lee, therefore, is on his own.

But the people, the genuine people, not some special interests, will know if the Man of La Mancha, who dreams impossible dreams, is actually working hard toward the fulfillment of his wildest dreams, and not trying to garner publicity and make himself a rising star in the government.

A case in point: Criticized for stepping on the toes and turf of the Ministry of Justice after his recent assertion that people who hit the sauce, then hit the road, and then hit and kill other people while driving should be punished more heavily, Lee ordered the deployment of more police officers at night to intercept motorists driving under the influence of alcohol. However, the deployment of extra officers will only last for one month, according to police sources. One cannot help but wonder — Why not make it longer?

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