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June 23, 2017

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Govt's FEPZ project may face debacle: academia

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Local scholars raised concern in a public hearing yesterday that the government's flagship project Free Economic Pilot Zones (FEPZ) may face public opposition, as the program may induce income disparity as well as land ownership disputes.

A public hearing was convened by the Legislature's Economics Committee yesterday to deliberate on the pros and cons of the FEPZs. The event was attended by National Chengchi University Department of Land Economics professor Hsu Shih-jung (徐世榮), Takming University of Science and Technology professor Hua Ching-chun (花敬群) and Cross-Strait Agreements Watch convener Lai Chung-chiang (賴中強), among others.

 As the government's other major economic program, the Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement, faces considerable opposition, attendants said that the controversy may backfire, drawing broader public resentment. They opposed the FEPZ for fear that the program will widen income disparity, as the program is more likely to benefit the rich, resulting in "economic injustice."

Land Confiscation for the FEPZ

 Hsu lashed out, saying that the government has confiscated land from private owners without proper cause. He pointed out that a large amount of land has been acquired by the government without following the Land Expropriation Act. Hsu accused the government for "robbing the poor for the rich." He added that "farmers have nothing left but the land, yet the government is stealing the only resource they have."

 The government established a new set of land confiscation rules for the FEPZ program. The rules appeared to override the Land Expropriation Act. Hsieh Chih-cheng (謝志誠), a former professor from National Taiwan University, said that the new rules may be applied to the broader public if the government chooses to do so, resulting in more loss of land. Scholars said that there should be clear specifications in regard to where the FEPZ covers so that land confiscation rules cannot be applied everywhere.

Government Promises Further Review

 National Development Council (NDC) Minister Kuan Chung-ming (管中閔) responded that the confiscation rules were created in order to add flexibility to the land acquisition process. However, the government will review the rules again to see if they are really necessary, Kuan said.

 Attendants also claimed that the government has confiscated land from private owners despite the fact there was already vacant land. Attendants suggested that the government repeal the land confiscation rules to ensure that there would be no illegal confiscation or speculative land investment.

 In response to the fierce opposition at the public hearing, Kuan said that the government will take a closer good at the FEPZ program. The government will also consider the possibility of "real estate securitization" proposed by academia. Kuan said that the NDC will hold meetings this week with officials from the Ministry of Economic Affairs as well as the Ministry of the Interior to further review the FEPZ program.




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