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Political bickering must stop to aid in Kaohsiung reconstruction

Publication Date : 10-08-2014


A week after the deadly gas explosions that rocked Kaohsiung, we have been able to piece together a clearer picture of what actually happened and who were the culprits. But we have also seen its focus shifting from a real-life tragedy to a political farce where different sides have been playing the blame game.

The blasts' casualties are listed as high as 30 people killed and more than 300 injured so far. Political casualties have also been high: Economics Minister Chang Chia-juch has offered to resign amid fierce calls for his head from the opposition camp. The second-in-command of the economics ministry, Duh Tyzz-jiun, has also expressed a desire to step down.

The Kaohsiung City government, which had been anxious to come clean on the matter, has now received a fatal blow following revelations that countered its previous claims that it had no knowledge of the underground pipeline from which the gas leaked, triggering the explosions.

Mayor Chen Chu has apologised, though she denied lying. But four of the city's ranking officials have tendered their resignations over what the mayor claims was miscommunication within the administration, miscommunication that wasted precious minutes when crisis struck.

We may never know how genuine that ignorance and miscommunication was. But the way that the city government has been jumping to conclusions seems to show that Chen was anxious to find a scapegoat.

It remains to be seen how she is going to survive the biggest crisis of her political career. As a leader of Taiwan's fledgling pro-democracy movement in the 1970s and 1980s, she survived the ruling Kuomintang's persecution.

Three decades later, she may be looking at a blow that might end her political career as well as the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) 16-year rule in the southern port city.

No party could claim that it had no part in such a tragedy after 16 years in office: part of the job is taking care of one of the most important but dangerous underground networks of the city. Especially since the economy of Kaohsiung relies heavily on the petrochemical industry.

The records of the pipelines' existence have always been there; the city government simply failed to notice its risk to public safety.

As for the central government, we are not sure to what extent it should share the blame. But we do need to point out that the DPP's criticisms of the economics ministry are not entirely unfounded.

After all, the LCY Chemical pipeline that allegedly leaked the gas is believed to have been built by the state-run CPC oil company and its care was subsequently transferred to the private firm.

LCY claims that it commissioned CPC to maintain the pipeline, but the state-run company denied it was ever responsible.

We must ask whether the Economics Ministry has sufficiently monitored the CPC's operations, particularly its “underground” — both literally and metaphorically — deals with others.

Many critics have pointed out the “lawlessness” of these networks of underground pipelines, and the Economics Ministry has admitted there are gray areas concerning the regulation of them.

The fact that LCY did not take out any public safety insurance policies for pipelines outside of its factories' premises shows how these gray areas may be much “darker” than they seem at first glance.

This is no time for political bickering. Instead, efforts must be devoted to making sure all involved parties take their fair share of responsibility for the damaged roads and private properties, not to mention the ruined lives of the traumatised people in the explosions-hit areas.

It is also pressing that a system be built to closely monitor and manage these underground networks — assuming that Taiwan still needs the petrochemical industry.

And we need ways to make sure these underground pipelines — if no better alternatives are possible — do not go through densely populated areas. This is not easy: 30 years ago when the pipeline was laid, few people lived in that area.

Urbanisation means any underground pipeline network would have to be rerouted frequently. How that can be done, and whether it is cost-efficient is a matter that the government and the petrochemical industry have to work hard on.


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