Amendment paving way for Hsinchu city-county merger clears first hurdle

12/24/2021 10:14 PM
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CNA photo Dec. 24, 2021
CNA photo Dec. 24, 2021

Taipei, Dec. 24 (CNA) A Local Government Act amendment paving the way for a Hsinchu City-Hsinchu County merger and upgrade to special municipality status has proceeded to the committee stage after clearing its first legislative hurdle Friday.

The amendment bill, sponsored by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘), passed its first reading on the floor of the Legislature and will now be referred to relevant committees for review.

Proposals by opposition lawmakers to send the bill back to the Procedure Committee, where the agenda of bills that reach the Legislature is set, were rejected by a 45-56 vote.

The amendment seeks to lower the bar on the establishment of special municipalities in Taiwan so that regions hoping to upgrade to special municipality status no longer have to meet the minimum population requirement.

Currently, only a region with a population of 1.25 million and above that has "special needs for political, economic, cultural, and metropolitan developments" can be reconstituted as a special municipality, according to Article 4 of the Local Government Act.

The bill is part of the DPP's bid to merge Hsinchu City with Hsinchu County, a region home to the Hsinchu Science Park as well as the headquarters of contract chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.

The DPP's plan would also seek to have the unified region upgraded into a special municipality.

As of November 2021, approximately 1.02 million people reside in the combined region, including 452,665 in Hsinchu City and 575,131 in Hsinchu County, according to local government figures.

In his proposal, the DPP's Ker, who also heads the party's caucus in the Legislature, wrote that population should no longer be a requirement when it comes to establishing a special municipality because of Taiwan's falling birth rate and increasingly digitized governance.

Instead, the nation's overall territorial planning and industrial developments of each region should be considered, Ker wrote, arguing that establishing special municipalities would help close the gap between urban and rural areas while elevating the country's competitiveness.

Talks on the merger began to surface in September when Hsinchu City Mayor Lin Chih-chien (林智堅) of the DPP said it was important for the Hsinchu region to become a special municipality in order to further its development.

Lin said at the time that residents of the Hsinchu region contributed NT$190 billion (US$6.78 billion) in taxes annually -- ranking the fifth in the country -- but that the budgets allocated by the central government to the region for its infrastructure had fallen behind other special municipalities.

Special municipalities are entitled to a larger share of budgets drawn from the central government's tax revenues compared to counties and county-level cities.

Lin's view was backed by President and DPP chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who said at a party meeting Wednesday that the merger of the Hsinchu City and Hsinchu County was "quite an urgent issue."

The region has been the hub of Taiwan's tech industry and its merger and upgrade would further empower it with regards to governance and capacity, and subsequently promote the development of the country's key industries, she added.

However, the Kuomintang (KMT), the largest opposition party in the Legislature, has questioned the motives of the DPP.

The KMT has accused the DPP of preparing to have Lin run for Hsinchu mayor again in the local government elections in November 2022 -- something that would only be possible if the merger were to go ahead.

Under Taiwan's current laws, both city mayors and county magistrates are limited to two four-year terms. However, if the merger of Hsinchu City and Hsinchu County is completed, Lin, who is currently serving his second term, would be able to run again for mayor of the newly created combined municipality.

On the other hand, Hsinchu County Magistrate Yang Wen-ke (楊文科) of the KMT said he was not opposed to Lin's idea but he believed that the merger should also include neighboring Miaoli County.

In that case, Yang went on, there would be no need for the DPP to push for the amendment because the population of the three places would surpass the 1.25 million required by the current law.

There are currently six special municipalities in Taiwan -- Taipei, New Taipei, Taoyuan, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung -- which together account for nearly 70 percent of Taiwan's 2.35 million population, according to Ministry of Interior (MOI) data.

Any proposal for an upgrade to special municipality status must be reviewed by the MOI, which will then submit its recommendation to the Cabinet for final approval.

(By Wang Yang-yu and Teng Pei-ju)

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