Forward-looking infrastructure bill passed

Taipei--A bill for a "forward-looking infrastructure development plan" cleared the floor of the Legislative Yuan on Wednesday after lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties cut the investment amount of the plan by half earlier in the day.

The infrastructure development plan, which is embraced by President Tsai Ing-wen's administration as its anchor economic stimulus project, include investment in a wide range of industries such as rail transportation, water environment, urban and rural development, digital development and green energy.

To appeal to the public, who had cast doubts over the plan, the government said the investment will also be aimed at improving food safety, serving as a solution to an aging society in Taiwan, where the birth rate is on the decline, and creating jobs.

Earlier in the day, lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) reached a consensus to cut the amount of the infrastructure plan to NT$420 billion (US$13.77 billion) from the previously planned NT$880 billion and to shorten the implementation period to four years from eight.

The earlier consensus was perceived as a concession from the DPP, which wanted a speedy passage of the infrastructure plan at a time when the opposition parties, economists and the business sector have raised worries that the massive plan without concrete details will be a waste of taxpayers' money.

The original infrastructure plan had also been characterized by the opposition as pork-barrel spending ahead of local elections in 2018, since about half of the investment would be assigned to DPP-controlled local governments for light rail construction.

Under the newly passed bill, the Executive Yuan will spend up to NT$420 billion over the next four years. After the first four-year timeline, the Executive Yuan will be eligible to seek approval from the Legislative Yuan for an extension of another four years to continue its investment.

According to a schedule mapped out by the DPP, a spending budget will be submitted to the Legislative Yuan for review during an extraordinary session that will kick off July 12 and run through July 28. Premier Lin Chuan is expected to deliver a report on the spending to lawmakers during this period.

The DPP said that the administration has set a goal for the spending plan to clear the Legislative floor in another extraordinary session by Aug. 31.

Opposition Kuomintang caucus whip Lin Wei-chou said the four-year timeline and the NT$420 billion for the plan's first phase is acceptable to the party, but it could still not accept that the majority of the funding has been earmarked for light rail construction.

Lin said that due to the cutting of the investment amount by half, the Executive Yuan needs to revise the original plan, adding that it would be illegal for the government to keep its original investment plan and only hopes for an extension to complete the original investment plan after the first four-year timeline.

Source: Overseas Community Affairs Council