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Gov't must handle Cingjing violators with tact, caution

The Cabinet recently formed a cross-ministry task force to identify and solve Taiwan's environmental and overdevelopment problems, a move prompted by a much acclaimed documentary that shows the island's “beauty and sadness” in images taken from the air.

Premier Jiang Yi-huah, setting the tone of the mission, reportedly said the problems will be handled with an “iron fist.”

How hard that “iron fist” may be remains uncertain, but the government has already started to show some real action, targeting scores of illegal bed and breakfasts — many of them as luxurious and expensive as five-star hotels — up in the mountains at Cingjing Farm in Natou County.

It is a mystery why the government had not taken such long overdue actions before the premier watched, along with his Cabinet members, the Golden Horse Award-winning documentary “Beyond Beauty — Taiwan from Above.”

The film shows the natural beauty of Taiwan, and also how serious pollution and over-development — forming what the narrator calls the “sadness” of the island — are threatening to turn “Formosa,” or “beautiful island,” into a purely historical name without any contemporary significance.

The premier sounded as if he hadn't been aware of the problems when he described how he had been touched and motivated by the documentary.

The premier's seeming ignorance might have just been him using his political tact to muster support from a popular film to back his campaign to remedy these problems.

Either way, all eyes are on the Cingjing case, which is set to become a benchmark showing how the government will deal with such a massive issue, which involves so many facilities in a big and overdeveloped area, not to mention all of their employees who may end up losing their jobs if these inns have to close down.

According to Interior Minister Lee Hong-yuan, only four out of the 134 bed and breakfasts fully comply with laws and regulations, while all others have violations in one or the other.

Lee has been criticized by legislators for refusing to identify the violators. Nevertheless, he says more investigation has to be done to determine which facilities are standing on geologically high-risk areas. On Thursday, he promised to start taking actions in two weeks to demolish illegal structures in high-risk areas.

His cautious approach is understandable. We don't expect an “iron fist” policy that only looks at the law and ignores all other implications and consequences.

It is not just the livelihoods of the bed and breakfast employees that are at stake; millions of dollars in tourism revenues could also evaporate if the area is completely “cleaned up.”

While the government did fail to nip the problem in the bud and let it grow to an almost unmanageable scale, we could still afford to wait a few more weeks.

And we do need to show some patience and the government some tact, as Cingjing is not an isolated case. The operators there have complained about the government being unfair to them by singling them out. They demand the government also take actions against illegal bed and breakfast operations in Kenting, Jiufen and many other parts of the island.

We believe the government is singling out Cingjing merely as a beginning point, and more actions will follow in other areas. We don't want to see the government target all areas at the same time; that would be unmanageable.

The Cingjing case is a trial. We do hope the government can be more cautious and work out a feasible model for handling such cases. Any reckless and drastic moves may backfire, and in turn hamper any future actions.

But we do hope that the campaign is a long-term one, not just another empty promise.

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