Many Taiwanese might find themselves in a difficult situation as government plans nominally intended to benefit the public interest actually deprive people of their land and the homes which they rely on for their survival.
Why do we have this problem? It is primarily due to financial and political factors. As the government is laden with debt, it constantly makes plans for major construction programs, overstates economic efficiency and population growth and relies on urban planning measures to turn non-taxable farmland into urban land in order to collect land tax and the incremental land tax.
In 1990, the Executive Yuan ordered that farmland should be converted into urban land, all of it by means of zone expropriation. Through this process, the government created large lots of land that could be sold off to private buyers for construction purposes, thus giving the government a financial boost. In the words of former Miaoli County commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻), this strategy was a “cash cow” for his government. To increase the self-liquidating rate of public construction projects, land development has been used to finance construction. Regular expropriation has also been used.
Land has huge underlying profit potential that can be converted through political forces. This is the reason over half of all local political factions are engaged in industries related to land development. Local politics is tantamount to land politics, in which urban planning has become a field for political-economic interest exchange and for co-opting local power brokers.
Local development is dominated by an alliance of political-economic interest groups that promote land development and view land as a lucrative commodity. This alliance of interest groups are like vultures that, aside from using urban planning projects and land expropriation, use self-managed urban land rezoning and urban renewal measures and have savagely devoured the land and homes of good people.
Although the Constitution explicitly stipulates that “The right of existence, the right to work and the right of property shall be guaranteed to the people,” the alliance between government and business does not only ignore their importance, it also intentionally misinterprets them. For example, zone expropriation has been misleadingly interpreted as cooperative land development between the government and the private sector in order to avoid the strict requirements that are placed on land expropriation. In addition, self-organized rezoning committees are full of nominal members and as long as the directors and supervisors control half the property rights and members, they also control the remaining property rights.
These practices are quite shocking and could possibly be serious constitutional violations. In particular, rezoning plans that do not go through fair, just and open democratic review processes, but are instead passed by a majority vote, is nothing less than bullying the minority.
Unfortunately, national plans and programs that should be in the public interest have now developed into a system of land exploitation controlled by the alliance of political and business interests. This is a severe invasion of basic human rights, which has led to an increase in difficulties for a number of people. Pope Francis recently said that the poor should be given the right to work, abode and land and that these rights should be protected, calling them “sacred rights.” One can only speculate as to whether this is enough to open the eyes of those in power to the suffering of the poor.