Executive Yuan spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) (CNA file photo)
Taipei, Dec. 29 (CNA) The Executive Yuan has decided to postpone two planned public hearings on lifting a ban on imports of Japanese food products from four radiation-affected prefectures after one such hearing was disrupted by protesters last week.
The public hearings on the issue that have drawn widespread concern were scheduled for Jan. 2 in Kaohsiung and Jan. 8 in Taipei, following one that was aborted in New Taipei on Dec. 25.
As the Dec. 25 event was canceled due to protests by activists opposed to the lifting of the ban, the Executive Yuan decided to postpone the other two due to expectations that they could draw a new wave of protests on an even larger scale, Executive Yuan spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) said Thursday.
The postponement is also in response to calls by some civic groups for the public hearings to be suspended until a better way of conducting a public hearing on a controversial issue is produced, Hsu added.
The Cabinet will formulate a better model for policy debates to allow the public to participate in discussions on controversial issues free from political manipulation, he said.
Hsu blamed the protest at the New Taipei public hearing on what he described as "political manipulation" by the opposition Kuomintang (KMT).
He did not give any dates for when the other two planned hearings will take place, saying only that the government will discuss the controversial issue from the perspective of "finding truth, resolving disputes and recovering people's confidence in the government's food safety policy."
Protests erupted at the venue of the Dec. 25 public hearing in New Taipei's Xindian District, with several KMT lawmakers and politicians decrying the event as illegal ostensibly because a public notice had not been published 14 days prior to the date of the meeting.
The hearing was changed into a forum for simple opinion exchanges after being constantly interrupted by protesters.
Deputy Minister of Health and Welfare Ho Chi-kung (何啟功) said later that day that there is no law that stipulates a public hearing needs to be publicized in advance.
"The '14-day' discussion was first brought up by KMT Legislator Alicia Wang (王育敏) during a budget review at the legislature," he said at a press conference. There is currently no legal requirement for a 14-day advance notice or any advance notice at all, Ho noted.
Taiwan has banned the imports of food products from five prefectures in Japan that were contaminated with radioactive substances following the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011, a catastrophe triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami.
The Democratic Progressive Party administration, inaugurated in May, is inclined to lift the ban with the exception of foodstuff Fukushima in an effort to promote the signing of an economic partnership agreement with Japan.
The plan, however, has run into heavy public opposition.
The Executive Yuan held 10 public hearings on the government's policy in different parts of Taiwan from Nov. 12 to 14 after announcing them on Nov. 10, but critics say the hearings were too hastily announced and were essentially conducted just for show, to pave the way for lifting the ban.
Some of those hearings also ended in chaos amid protests.
(By Tai Ya-chen and Elizabeth Hsu)