Looking at land value the way a farmer does

Shih-Jung Hsu, Department of Land Economics, National Chengchi University

The Ministry of the Interior's Regional Planning Committee approved the fourth stage of the Central Taiwan Science Park last Thursday, despite much public protest and a number of important factors not having been clarified, such as the environmental impact assessment. The approval of this development project and the disregard for public participation in the administrative process once again raise serious questions about both the legitimacy and rationality of the government's public policymaking.

At the committee's previous meeting, teary-eyed senior citizens from Changhua County voiced grievances over the government's planned brutal expropriation of their land, complaining that they would have nothing with which to make a living. All in attendance were touched and could feel their sorrow.

Land expropriation is a very important state measure. Most advanced democracies are reluctant to use it, and see it as a last resort because of the serious consequences. In Taiwan , however, land expropriation has long been abused. The government exercises this right at every turn, making it the favored method for policymaking. This is a great irony in Taiwan , a country that claims to adhere to democracy and to guarantee the right to private ownership.

We must understand that the initiation of land expropriation must be predicated on the public interest, and the fulfillment of the public interest requires strict administrative procedures and the full participation of local residents to reach the widest possible consensus.

However, the Non-urban Land Use Control Regulations and the Land Expropriation Act are seriously flawed, turning the “public interest” into the best excuse and the sharpest tool for those in power — such as local governments — to deprive people of their right to own private property and their right to survival. The sad thing is that current legislation gives local residents and landowners no right to oppose expropriation. Despite legal requirements for public hearings, price negotiation between the government and landowners and reviews by the local land planning committees, these are all empty promises.

Local residents are closely tied to the land they call home, and have a different take on farmland from that of the government or big business. Such land should not be viewed from the economic aspect alone, because the safety and lives of local residents depend on this land and they identify with it on a spiritual level. It is exceedingly important, especially for those who are now in their 70s or 80s. They feel that if they have their land, there is hope that their lives and livelihoods will continue. Most Taiwanese farming villages are dealing with aging populations, but these elderly residents also have the fundamental right to survival, and this right should not be sacrificed on the altar of economic production value.

It goes without saying that the government should thoroughly investigate the impact that the fourth stage of the science park would have on local communities, culture and public welfare, and it should also respect the right of residents to choose. The government should evaluate the public interest based on relevant administrative procedures and regulations, and at the very least hold public hearings. This is the only way to avoid further social division and confrontation and to guarantee the rights and interests of the public.

The government should postpone the fourth stage of the science park until these issues have been resolved.