A group of government officials, business people and academics specializing in land administration and real estate have formed the Taiwan Land Social Alliance.
The group recently held a press conference and unveiled its Taiwan Land Manifesto. During the conference, alliance founders demonstrated how the nation’s lack of a comprehensive land policy has contributed to numerous social problems and called on the central government to carry out an immediate land policy review.
The problems with Taiwan’s current land policy can be broken down into three areas.
First, land policy has overlooked the universal value of land ethics. Land is a purchasable commodity, but it is also an important environmental resource that provides Taiwanese with a place to call home.
For this reason, the manifesto makes particular mention of the fact that in a society based on the rule of law, land is the key basis for orientating a nation toward democratic governance, human rights, economic development, social equality, cultural preservation and environmental conservation.
Unfortunately, because governments are focused on achieving a fixed set of goals, land policy always ends up being dependent on other policy areas. This has resulted in the important issue of land ethics being cast to one side.
In Taiwan, land has now been reduced to a tool for investment and speculation. This has widened the wealth gap and caused Taiwanese society to develop in an unbalanced way.
Second, current land policy lacks both a strategic and legal framework fit for modern times. The alliance’s manifesto calls for land use to be planned and used in a rational manner in order to enhance public welfare. When the authorities intervene, they should do so with due legal process to ensure the public’s basic human rights are upheld.
Although the Martial Law era ended many years ago, the systems that are currently in place are an echo of that authoritarian age. The right to interpret what is in the public interest is still in the hands of a favored few. For instance, a variety of committees, made up of a handful of people, make decisions that affect the lives of the majority. The side effect of this system is excessive land expropriation, forced demolitions for urban renewal projects and other serious infringements of fundamental human rights.
Third, the government has forfeited its chance to use land policy to shape an ideal vision for the future by building a better society and doing something worthwhile. It is well known that increases in land values are generally a social effect, so these profits should be shared with all of society. Instead, land is almost entirely privately owned, which is unreasonable. Therefore, there is an urgent need to build a just and fair system of real-estate taxation so that the fruits of land value increases can be shared with all of society.
Furthermore, in accordance with land use zoning rules, agricultural land should be used for farming. Instead, much of the nation’s best agricultural land is now covered in luxury villas. This has contributed to a severe erosion of the agricultural environment.
A robust and rational land policy is needed in order to develop a better society.
The alliance recommends that the government gather together experts from industry, government and academia and convene a national land conference to fully review issues concerning land in Taiwan.
The government should then formulate a clear policy on land to address the nation’s land issues and the related social problems.
Hsu Shih-jung is a professor of land economics at National Chengchi University.