Taiwan Parliament approves funds for infrastructure plan

Green light for first phase of funding will let President Tsai pursue legislative agenda

Taiwan's Parliament has approved the first phase of funding for an ambitious infrastructure plan, putting an end to an impasse that has delayed several projects.

The breakthrough vote paves the way for President Tsai Ing- wen to advance her legislative agenda, with an eye on boosting the chances of her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) at next year's local elections.

The NT$107 billion (S$4.8 billion) budget was cut by 1.7 per cent, after wrangling between the ruling DPP and the opposition Kuomintang Party (KMT) in a marathon voting session that started on Monday and ended only early yesterday.

The first stage of the plan, expected to run from this month to December next year, includes projects such as rail construction, talent development and improving food safety.

Called the Forward-looking Infrastructure Bill, the plan is a signature project of the Tsai administration, and aims to bolster domestic demand and rebalance Taiwan's export-driven economy.

The construction of light-rail infrastructure, flood control measures and green energy facilities are some of the other projects the plan is expected to fund.

The Bill was passed in July by the DPP-controlled Legislative Yuan, Taiwan's Parliament, after lawmakers agreed to cut spending from NT$882.49 billion over eight years to NT$420 billion over four years.

Taiwan's economy is showing signs of recovery, prompting the government to recently raise its growth forecast for this year, and predict further gains for next year.

However, KMT lawmakers have slammed the DPP for pushing through the Bill without proper consultation with other lawmakers.

They mounted a protest led by the KMT's legislative caucus whip Tseng Ming-chung, who was on a three-day hunger strike that ended only yesterday.

A poll by Hsing Wu University in New Taipei found that more than 60 per cent of people do not understand what the infrastructure Bill is about, and half of them say the new legislation will not improve the economy.

Ms Tsai's approval ratings have plunged to below 40 per cent from nearly 70 per cent when she took office in May last year, after her government took on divisive issues such as gay marriage and pension reforms.

But political analysts said the approval of the first round of funding for the infrastructure Bill may boost the DPP's chances of retaining its seats in local elections next year.

National Sun Yat-sen University political scientist Liao Da-chi, referring to Ms Tsai, said: "It is a victory of sorts as now, she has something to show for her efforts, and she is keeping her promise to introduce reforms to improve people's lives."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2017, with the headline Taiwan Parliament approves funds for infrastructure plan. Subscribe