Taipei show remembers top ‘dangwai’ magazines

An exhibition of once banned dangwai (黨外, “outside the party”) movement magazines published between the 1970s and 1980s has opened in Taipei as part of the nation’s commemorations of the 30th anniversary of the lifting of martial law.

Featuring more than 20 different covers from Formosa (美麗島), 1980s (八十年代), Freedom Era Weekly (自由時代周刊) and other magazines, the exhibition covers several walls of To-uat Books x Cafe Philo (左轉有書x慕哲咖啡), a prominent bookstore and coffee shop operated by several labor and human-rights advocacy groups.

“Our own group was established in 1984 during the Martial Law era, so we also had to deal with the effects of government repression,” Taiwan Labor Front secretary-general Son Yu-liam (孫友聯) said. “The resistance of dangwai magazines played a crucial role in Taiwan’s democratization, so we hope to use this exhibition to help more people understand the sheer number of people involved in pushing for the end of martial law and Taiwan’s eventual democratization.”

The most notable exhibits are two editions of Freedom Era Weekly from the week before and week after the lifting of martial law on July 15, 1987, he said.

Published in numerous incarnations by democracy activist Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕) from 1984 to 1989, the magazine repeatedly evaded attempted government bans, only ending publication after Deng immolated himself in the magazine’s offices to resist arrest for publishing a draft constitution of a proposed “Republic of Taiwan,” that challenged a ban on advocating Taiwanese independence.

Beginning this year, the April 7 anniversary of his death is to be celebrated nationally as “Freedom of Speech Day.”

National Chengchi University history professor Hsueh Hua-yuan (薛化元) said that Deng was also notable for his ability to take advantage of loopholes in magazine publication regulations to keep Freedom Era Weekly alive in the face of repeated government bans on the publication of sensitive articles.

“There were different requirements you had to meet, including having a ‘proper’ stated purpose — but you could re-register the same magazine if you changed the name and found someone who was willing to attach their name to it and Deng was able to find a lot of willing people,” he said.

According to the Nylon Cheng Liberty Foundation (whose name incorporates Deng’s English nickname) figures, the magazine was published under 23 different titles, with commemorative issues for the lifting of martial law published during a brief period in which it resumed its original title.

While alternative title issues of Freedom Era Weekly are not on display, viewers can still see the “title switch” tactic up close by examining covers of the magazines 1980s and Asian Monthly (亞洲人), a later incarnation.

It also features covers from the short-lived 1979 magazine Formosa, which had a huge impact on the nation’s after numerous staff members were arrested for organizing a pro-democracy rally in Kaohsiung.

Many staff members — including now Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) — went on to become prominent figures in the Democratic Progressive Party, as did their defense lawyers.

“At the time, you had to use magazines, because only magazines could be registered,” said Hsueh, referring to a ban on new newspaper registrations during the Martial Law era.

The exhibition runs through Sunday at 3 Hao Shaoxing N Rd in Taipei’s Zhongzheng (中正) district near Shandao Temple MRT station.

Lin defends Cabinet’s budget requests

Premier Lin Chuan (林全) yesterday defended the Cabinet’s drafting of the budget for the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program, saying it was neither illegal nor different from how previous administrations had drawn up their budgets.

Lin held a news conference yesterday afternoon at the Executive Yuan to explain the Cabinet’s budget requests for the program after Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers blocked him from briefing the legislature earlier in the day.

Responding to KMT accusations that the budget proposals were illegal, Lin said he was at “a complete loss” as to which act the Executive Yuan had breached.

Lin said the KMT has been boycotting the budget because it believes the Cabinet has broken the law by making budget requests that lack long-term planning, as they only cover the early stages of projects under the program, whose overall budget and time frame are set at NT$420 billion (US$13.8 billion) and four years respectively.

The KMT also believes that since the program’s budget has been cut from NT$882.49 billion to NT$420 billion, along with the time frame, following the passage of the Special Act on the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program (前瞻基礎建設特別條例) last week, the Cabinet should have updated its budget proposals before sending them to the Executive Yuan for approval, he said.

Lin said the Executive Yuan drafted and approved the special budget proposals to show the legislature that it bears full responsibility for their content — unlike special budget requests made by former administrations, which were often not capped and were criticized as “blank checks.”

As such, even though those special budget requests had been approved, they could be subject to change and became only a reference for legislators, Lin added.

The special act stipulates that the projects should be divided into several stages, so the Executive Yuan budgeted funds for the first 16 months of the projects, he said.

“The budget proposals were made in exactly the same way previous special budgets had been planned. There is nothing illegal about them,” he said.

Setting fixed budgets for each stage of the program at this point is impractical and not feasible, because the budgets could be slashed during upcoming legislative reviews, in which case the Executive Yuan would have to adjust the distribution of funds, he said.

Lin said he did not see why the proposals should be redone as the KMT had demanded.

In related news, the Presidential Office yesterday denied rumors that Lin would soon be replaced by Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德).

The Presidential Office urged the public not to take the “fabrications” seriously.

Lai said the rumor stemmed from misleading news reports, adding that he fully supports Lin and his team.

Tsai highlights targets for judicial reform

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday outlined the key areas of focus for judicial reform, including increasing courtroom transparency, improving the selection and discipline of judges and prosecutors, bolstering judicial neutrality and professionalism, and establishing “trials with civic participation.”

Tsai made the comments at the sixth general meeting of the preparatory committee for the National Congress on Judicial Reform held at the Presidential Office, calling the items necessary to meet the public’s expectations.

“The courtroom must become more transparent by various means, including issuing verdicts that are comprehensible to the average person. The process for selecting competent judges and prosecutors and for weeding out incompetent ones must be improved. The professionalism and political neutrality of the judiciary must be bolstered. A system for civic participation in trials must be instituted,” Tsai said.

She also instructed agencies to make detailed proposals and set a clear timetable for their implementation.

The committee has worked hard over 40 sessions since November last year to create an agenda that comprises the most important items, Tsai said.

As legal reform must be based on popular support, the proposals must be described in comprehensible language, she said.

The reforms would be unsuccessful if they are not communicated to the public, regardless of their professional merits, Tsai said.

Civic participation in trials — which is largely supported by the public — is a priority, committee deputy executive secretary Lin Feng-jeng (林?正) told a news conference after the meeting.

The Judicial Yuan is drafting a trial system that is suitable for the nation and would make “citizen judges” a reality as soon as possible, he said.

Courtroom transparency is also to be improved by, for example, writing legal documents and reference books in modern, accessible Chinese, he said.

The training and selection of judges, prosecutors and lawyers would be streamlined by implementing a single bar examination instead of holding separate certification exams for each, Lin said.

Practical knowledge is to be emphasized in the education of judges and prosecutors, he added.

Other focuses include opening prosecutorial appointments and administrations to democratic oversight, making the court structure less top-heavy, establishing specialized courts for cases that require professional knowledge and procedural changes for the Council of Grand Justices, he said.

A stronger oversight system and ridding subpar officers is needed to restore public confidence, and review procedures should be made more effective, he said.

The committee is determined to protect the rights of the disadvantaged and has established several directives to do so, such as improving evidentiary laws, making recourse better available to the wrongfully convicted, creating protections for minors’ privacy and the rights of the disadvantaged, and implementing restorative justice, Lin said.

The committee is scheduled to hold a live-streamed general meeting at the Presidential Office on Aug. 12 to summarize its conclusions, and is to publish documents beforehand, he said.

Cabinet unveils infrastructure budget

The Cabinet yesterday proposed a NT$108.9 billion (US$3.56 billion) budget for the first part of the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program.

The budget is to fund eight categories of projects over four years.

The Cabinet has allocated NT$35.4 billion for urban and rural development projects.

This includes NT$12.2 billion to improve road quality, NT$6.15 billion to develop industrial parks, NT$4.38 billion to build long-term care facilities and repair unsafe public buildings, NT$3.6 billion to build sports and recreational facilities and NT$1.45 billion to develop Hakka and Aboriginal communities.

In addition, NT$25.67 billion has been earmarked for water infrastructure: NT$14.37 billion for the construction of an artificial lake, catchment area conservation, reservoir dredging and water supply system upgrade; NT$5.3 billion for regional river management; and NT$6 billion for water resource management and conservation.

Railway projects, which account for nearly half of the total budget, have received NT$17.06 billion at this stage, as many projects have yet to undergo feasibility assessments and planning, but the railway budget would increase significantly when most projects enter construction phase, the Executive Yuan said.

About NT$6.9 billion would be spent on the electrification of railways connecting Taitung and Pingtung counties and NT$2.97 billion on the construction of an underground railway in Tainan, while a budget of NT$569 million is proposed to improve connectivity between regular and high-speed railways.

The Cabinet has allocated NT$8.12 billion to develop “green” energy infrastructure and a science park in Tainan, and NT$16.17 billion to build cloud servers and improve Internet facilities in schools and remote areas.

To recognize the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) suggestions, NT$2 billion, NT$300 million and NT$4.2 billion have been earmarked to address the issues of low birth rate, food safety and talent cultivation respectively.

Projects with smaller budgets can be supplemented with funds from regular annual budgets, Executive Yuan spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) said.

For example, although the Cabinet has proposed NT$2 billion to address low fertility rates, the Ministry of Health and Welfare has already allocated NT$6.85 billion to improve childcare services and the Ministry of Education has budgeted NT$6 billion to increase the number of public kindergartens by 1,000, Hsu said.

The Ministry of Science and Technology has allocated a three-year budget of NT$11.43 billion to cultivate talent from last year to next year, Hsu added.

The Cabinet is to officially present the budget to the legislature today.

KMT caucus whip Lin Te-fu (林德福) said the caucus would plan its review strategy after the Cabinet submits its proposal, adding that the party would prioritize the review of railway projects.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Wu Ping-jui (吳秉叡) urged the KMT to exercise restraint during the review, as the budget allocations do not favor DPP-ruled cities and counties as the KMT has claimed, but focus on the development of railroads in eastern Taiwan.

“The KMT would need to justify itself if it tries to boycott the budget review. Must the party insist on the previous KMT administration’s policies that ignored the development of eastern Taiwan?” Wu said.

Majority of people do not understand the Forward-looking program: survey

More than 60 percent of the public does not understand what the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program is and a majority do not believe it would improve the economy, a recent poll said.

The poll was conducted by Hsing Wu University for the Grassroots Influence Foundation from June 12 to Tuesday last week, with 1,155 valid samples and a 3 percent margin of error.

According to the survey, 60.86 percent of respondents said they are mostly uninformed or completely uninformed about the government’s infrastructure plan, and 51 percent said it would not improve the economy.

Another 44.07 percent said they do not believe the infrastructure program would help balance the nation’s rural and urban economies, and 47.18 percent said the plan was “not forward-looking enough.”

The poll found 48.31 percent of respondents are opposed to using half of its budget to build light railways, with 58.52 percent saying light rail projects are wasteful.

Although 40.43 percent said they believe the distribution of infrastructure funds is non-partisan, 48.74 percent said the plan rewards Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) loyalists.

Demographic analysis of the poll showed that older respondents were more likely to understand the infrastructure plan and were also more likely to have negative views of it.

Better-educated respondents were more likely to be concerned about the plan being wasteful or a reward for DPP loyalists, the poll said.

Taichung, and Changhua and Nantou county residents were most likely to have negative views of the light rail plans or the infrastructure plan as a whole, while Kaohsiung, and Pingtung County residents are most likely to have a favorable view, it said.

“The poll suggests that instead of trying to expedite its passage through the legislature, the government should withdraw its NT$882.49 billion (US$28.9 billion) infrastructure plan for revision. It needs to improve its planning and communication so the public can understand it. The government needs to re-evaluate plan’s goals to avoid waste,” the foundation said.

Teacher retirement age reform bill passes reading

The Legislative Yuan yesterday passed a second reading of draft legislation proposed by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to push back the age at which public-school teachers can begin receiving pensions from 50 to 58.

The DPP caucus had initially proposed a draft seeking to defer the threshold to 60, but on Tuesday announced that it would adopt a motion to set the age at 58 based on an agreement reached with the National Federation of Teachers’ Unions.

Before a vote, DPP Legislator Rosalia Wu (吳思瑤) touted the revised draft as a “middle ground” and moderate.

As the average retirement age of elementary and junior-high school teachers is 53.8, pushing back the threshold by about one year to 55 would be a half-hearted reform, she said.

Public-school teachers hired after Dec. 31, 2010, qualify for retirement when a combination of their age and years of service equals 75. For example, a teacher who began working at 25 could retire after turning 50.

However, if teachers want to convert their pensions into monthly payments — as opposed to a one-time lump sum — they must be at least 60 or have turned 55 after 30 years of work.

Teachers hired before 2011 can have their pensions converted into monthly payments without condition, as long as they have worked for at least 25 years and are at least 50 years old.

The DPP draft seeks to tighten teachers’ retirement rules by raising the combined minimum age and seniority from 75 to 85 over 10 years after the bill’s passage.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus, which proposed setting the age at 55, decried the agreement between the DPP and the federation, which KMT Legislator Yosi Takun (孔文吉) described as “opaque dealmaking.”

“Closed-door negotiations are the most widely criticized component of the legislative process. The DPP caucus should sit down with us and handle the issue according to public opinion,” KMT Legislator Huang Chao-shun (黃昭順) said.

She criticized the DPP caucus, saying it blatantly dealt with the draft through a negotiation and reached a decision to “perform half a good deed” while causing the education system to suffer.

“The DPP should explain the reasoning behind setting the age at 58, rather than 57 or 55,” Huang said.

KMT Legislator Ko Chih-en (柯志恩) cited a 2013 survey by the federation, in which most people aged 20 or older said that elementary and junior-high school teachers should retire before 55.

Having teachers retire after 55 would be counterproductive, driving up unemployment among certified teachers, as younger teachers would have to wait longer before positions would open at public schools, Ko said.

However, the DPP caucus, which has a legislative majority, pushed the draft through the second reading after a vote, despite the KMT’s strong objections.

KMT lawmakers also panned a DPP proposal to adjust the basis for calculating public-school teachers’ pensions from their salary upon retirement to their average salary over the final 15 years of their careers.

The conditional period is to be extended by one year each year from the second year to the 11th year, ultimately resulting in a 15-year average.

The 15-year period is too long and would put subscribers of the labor insurance system at a disadvantage, Ko said.

The Presidential Office’s Pension Reform Committee drafted a bill seeking to extend the calculation basis for workers’ pensions from the average labor insurance premium — a fixed proportion of their salaries — over the final five years of their careers to a 15-year average in a bid to attain consistency across the pension systems.

KMT disruption on pension bills likely

Pension reform proposals are in the final stage of legislative review, but the process is expected to be lengthy if the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) stalls proceedings with lengthy speeches as the legislature’s extraordinary session continues this week.

A cross-caucus understanding has been reached that KMT lawmakers would be given full opportunity to put forward their opinions during reviews, KMT caucus convener Sufin Siluko (廖國棟) said on Saturday.

However, KMT lawmakers have often made bogus or irrelevant comments during review proceedings, DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) said, adding that he would negotiate with KMT lawmakers to preempt lengthy and unnecessary speeches since the remaining clauses to be reviewed are mostly over technical issues that are not seen as controversial.

The draft act on civil servant pensions has 92 clauses, while a bill on public-school teacher retirement benefits has 96, and another on political appointees has 37.

However, the legislature on Thursday and Friday last week only managed to review 43 clauses of the civil servant pension bill.

The passage of all the remaining provisions would not be completed without a full week of lengthy reviewing if the KMT insists on initiating clause-by-clause debates.

Under the terms of the bills, the pension system for teachers would be identical to that of civil servants except for a difference in the stipulated retirement age.

In 2010, during former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) tenure, a draft act was submitted to amend the Statute Governing the Retirement of School Faculty and Staff (學校教職員退休條例) and raise the retirement eligibility from the “75 system” — which allows teachers to retire when their age plus years of service equal 75 — to an “85 system.”

However, it did not pass and the 75 system is still in effect.

The average retirement age of public-school teachers is 53.67, lower than the 55.89 for civil servants and 61.1 for private-sector workers.

According to the bill — formulated following the recommendations of the Presidential Office’s pension reform committee, the 75 system would be gradually changed to the 85 system by 2027, with an annual increment of one year in retirement eligibility to extend the retirement age of public-school teachers to 60.

For university professors, the retirement age would be extended to 65 by 2033.

The KMT caucus has proposed keeping the retirement age of elementary-school teachers at 55.

However, since 2011, the average age of teachers beginning service is 29, and their retirement age would be about 60 after working for 30 years, Minister of Education Pan Wen-chung (潘文忠) said.

Another point of contention is the “retirement reward” of minister-level officials, as political appointees assuming office prior to 2003 and having served for more than two years can combine their years of service in government with their years as civil servants to qualify for a monthly pension, but for officials assuming office after 2003, only a lump-sum payment is given.

The maximum basic pay of a civil servant is NT$53,075 per month, while the basic pay of ministers is NT$95,250 per month.

However, ministers who held office prior to 2003 can receive a pension based on the basic pay of ministers even though they worked as lower-level civil servants for the majority of their careers, DPP Legislator Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) said, criticizing the system as unfair.