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Taiwan: Land Expropriation Revision Fails to Address Farmers’ Woes

In the past two years, a number of farmer protests in Taiwan against land expropriation have taken place. Local farmer groups have requested the government to protect farm land from abusive expropriation by amending the Land Expropriation Act.

As the presidential election is approaching, the politicians in the Executive Yuan have decided to revise the law. However, instead of addressing the farmers’ concerns, on December 13, 2011, the lawmakers in the Legislative Yuan passed a revision of the Act that reinstates the interests of development over human rights.

University Professor Hsu SJ summarized the problem of the proposed bill (translated by Paul Cooper and Drew Cameron via his blog):

First, forced land expropriation involves human rights and is not a simple matter of how much compensation is offered. Forced expropriations are uncommon in constitutional democracies — unlike in Taiwan. This is because these nations view the issue as one involving human rights and one that needs to be strictly observed.

Second, land expropriation is a structural issue and not merely a matter of technical evaluation. Because land expropriation robs people of the constitutionally guaranteed rights mentioned above, expropriation must meet very strict conditions — it must serve the community, be necessarily proportional, a last resort and fully compensated. Not one of these conditions should be ignored.

The old lady is worried that her mother will become homeless. Photo by CHYNG

The old lady is worried that her mother will become homeless. Photo by CHYNG

Independent journalist Shuchuan compared [zh] farmer groups’ proposals and the government's revision in her blog. Quite obviously, the bill passed has not answered the farmers’ demand for procedural justice:

 

民間版本明確指出「特定農業區不得徵收」,只容許國防、水利等重大急迫者可考慮例外。行政院版雖也提出「特定農業區農牧用地不得納入」,但卻開了許多後門,例如包含國防、交通、公用事業、水利事業、公共衛生及環保事業、以及爭議最大的「經行政院核定的重大建設所需者,不在此限」。

Civil society demanded that “productive farmland should be excluded from land expropriation”, except from projects with pervasive public interest, such as military construction and irrigation. The amendment put forward by the Executive Yuan has included a long list of exceptions, such as: military construction, transportation, public construction, irrigation, public hygiene, environmental projects and “projects that have been approved by the Executive Yuan”.

行政院願在徵收前舉行公聽會,但不願舉行聽證會。(兩者差異甚大,公聽會沒有法律效力,人民在公聽會所提意見是否被採納,全看主辦單位,而聽證會依行政程序法舉辦,各方在聽證會中所言具法律效力)

The Executive Yuan only agrees to organize public consultation rather than a public hearing before land expropriation. (Public consultation is not legally binding, the authority can selectively listen to the suggestions put forward in the consultation, while a public hearing is a formal judicial procedure and what has been discussed is legally binding. )

行政院版從過去的公告地價加四成改成「市價徵收」,但所謂「市價」是由地方政府調查,並提交「地價評議委員會」評定。但許多土地徵收案都由地方政府發動,如果再由地方政府調查、評議,農村陣線認為無法達到公正客觀。

民間版本提出應委託三位以上不動產估價師進行查估,再提出全部估價報告由中央主管機關做為審議的參考。

The Executive Yuan has changed the land expropriation compensation from a fixed price to “market price”. But the so-called “market price” is put forward by the local government to the “Land price evaluation committee”. Since most of the land expropriations are initiated by local governments, it is very unlikely that they can be objective in evaluation of the land price.

The civil society demands an evaluation of land price by three independent consultant firms and a central government authority should be responsible for deciding the “market value”.

如因徵收而無屋可住者的安置措施,行政院版提出的對象僅限於「徵收公告前有居住事實的低收入戶、或無屋可居住者」。

但民間版本提出安置應一視同仁,不必限定。

According to the Executive Yuan's proposal, the government will only relocate the homeless and those low income residents affected by the land expropriation. Civil society demands resettlement for all.

On the night  of December 13, when politicians were debating the revision of Land Expropriation Act at the Legislative Yuan, farmers and activists from the Taiwan Rural Front demonstrated outside the building calling for land justice. Below is a short video uploaded by Taipeicitypost showing the protest scene. Protesters keep calling out, “For land justice, make no compromise”:

Many farmers shared their stories about forced land expropriation on that night. University student, Xie Er-ting shared [zh] what he had heard from the farmers in his blog:

獲選台灣十大經典好米的阿燈大哥,上台說:「各位,我的稻田也被徵收了。」連續三年獲得竹北稻米大賽前三名的農民,土地被璞玉計畫徵收,而規劃中的台大校區,迄今閒置十年。七十歲的阿嬤泛著淚,因為她一百歲的母親,可能隨時流離失所。一位客家老農,在台上講到最後,突然大聲唱起大家都聽不太懂的山歌,彷彿為了召喚什麼,彷彿他已經不知道還能做什麼,能讓他內心平靜。

Brother Ar-den, the winner of top 10 Taiwan classic rice farmer, told everyone on the stage: “My farmland has been expropriated.” The farmland of three other ChuBei farmers who were among the top three in the best rice award for three consecutive years had also been expropriated for the construction of the National Taiwan University's campus. But the expropriated land has remained vacant for 10 years. A 70-year old lady was shedding tears on stage because her 100 year-old mother would become homeless soon. A Hakka farmer could not continue his speech and started singing a folk song, as if he was calling for spirits to calm his heart.

Xie was very sad and questioned the role of the government:

政府在哪裡?整個晚上,未見任何官員前來關心,制服警察在會場入口森冷地站成一排。立委們將法案逕付二讀,要在房間內「協調」,「分配」好這些人的未來去向。

Where is the government? No government officials showed their concern on that night. What we saw was police officers standing there indifferently in their uniforms in front of the gate. The lawmakers were “negotiating” inside the building in their second reading of the bill, “setting” the future of the people outside the building.

在這個國家,我的家,可能因為一張莫名的公告,就被廉價徵收;在這個國家,年均收入兩萬美金,是世界的科技重鎮,卻讓一群年邁的老人,在寒風中請求大家幫忙,不要讓他們流離失所。我不知道這個國家進步在哪,我真的不知道。

In this country, my home could be expropriated with little compensation because of an inexplicable “announcement”. In this country, the annual income per capita is up to USD20,000. It is the world's silicon valley. However, what we see here is a group of elders begging for help in the cold winter night. They don't want to become homeless, that's all. Can we call this an advanced country? I really don't know.

Indeed, the impact of land expropriation has been pervasive in Taiwan, Food Crisis and Global Land Grab has published a list of expropriation sites.

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