Taiwan Life in Brief – November 2021

Taiwan's second-deadliest building fire sparked discussions on regulatory changes to improve fire safety. Photo: Martti Chen

Wage Hike For Public Workers Approved

The Executive Yuan in late October approved a nearly 4% wage hike for public workers, to take effect in 2022. The hike marks the biggest increase in government salary levels in over two decades, and will apply to civil servants, teachers, and military personnel. The salary adjustment comes as the Taiwan economy is enjoying a solid recovery from the summer outbreak of local COVID-19 infections.

The Executive Yuan cited Taiwan’s high economic growth this year as an additional reason for raising salaries, stating that the government can afford to reward public employees. The government has had a budget surplus for the past three years and plans to redeem NT$259.5 billion (US$9.25 billion) of public debt – a 20-year high – at the turn of the year. 

Fire in Kaohsiung Kills 46, Injures 41

A fire in a 13-story, mixed-use residential-commercial building in Kaohsiung’s Yancheng District raged for five hours on October 14, killing 46 people and injuring 41. It was Taiwan’s second-deadliest building fire after the 1995 blaze at the Weierkang Club in Taichung, which killed 64 people.

Yan Shu-fu, director-general of the Kaohsiung City Fire Protection Professional Engineers’ Association, urged the government to raise fire safety equipment standards in buildings, citing incomplete regulations and inefficient delegation of responsibilities. The Ministry of Interior has drafted an amendment to the 1995 Condominium Administration Act that will mandate all buildings, including those constructed before 1995, to establish a management committee or elect a manager within a specific deadline.

Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chi-mai apologized for the fatal blaze, promising the take responsibility and conduct a thorough inspection of fire safety standards. An investigation led by Kaohsiung Deputy Mayor Charles Lin and lawyer Chou Yuan-pei found that the city’s Fire and Public Works Bureaus bore responsibility for the fire due to their lax inspection protocols.

Legislator Admits to Informant Past

DPP Legislator Huang Kuo-shu admitted in October to having been an informant to the KMT in the 1980s when Taiwan was still under martial law. Huang announced he would leave the DPP and not seek re-election in 2024, accepting responsibility for spying on his fellow students while at university.

DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming praised Huang for his admission and said he hoped Huang would remain in the party. President Tsai Ing-Wen commented on social media that Huang’s experience was an example of the White Terror campaign’s targeting of vulnerable youth.

Many legislators have characterized the revelation as an important step in Taiwan’s historical remembrance and an opportunity to reflect on its authoritarian past. KMT Chairman Eric Chu commented that the authoritarian government during the martial law era is not representative of today’s KMT and dismissed Huang’s admission as DPP factional in-fighting.

Chen Po-Wei Recalled in Taichung Vote

Legislator Chen Po-wei of the Taiwan Statebuilding Party (TSP) was recalled in a close vote in Taichung on October 23. With 51.72% of eligible voters participating, 77,899 voted in favor of the recall, while 73,433 voted against it. In 2020, Chen narrowly defeated KMT incumbent Yen Ching-piao to represent the second electoral district of Taichung as the sole member of the TSP to hold elected office. The KMT supported the recall campaign, with party Chairman Eric Chu listing the vote as one of his top priorities following his election on October 5.

The recall campaign was initiated by voter Yang Wen-yuan, who cited Chen’s support of the Tsai administration’s lifting of a blanket ban on U.S. pork imports as one of the motivations behind the recall. DPP spokesman Liu Kang-yen labeled the recall a revenge effort initiated by the KMT that threatens Taiwan’s democracy.

Chen’s recall is the second successful campaign of its kind this year, following the recall in January of former DPP Taoyuan City Council member Wang Hao-yu. According to the law, a by-election will be held within three months to fill Chen’s seat.

Tsai Unveils Plans to Reform Constitution

During her Double Ten National Day speech this year, President Tsai announced the establishment of a Constitutional Amendment Committee in the Legislative Yuan. Tsai pledged that her administration would respond to national development needs through constitutional reforms targeting bureaucracy, national land use, and regional development. Premier Su Tseng-chang stated that the barriers to adopting constitutional amendments are high, but he hopes that society can reach a consensus and move the proposals forward.

In the DPP’s plan to amend the constitution, the party outlines six proposals, including expanding younger citizens’ political rights, abolishing the Examination and Control Yuans and allocating their powers to the Executive and Legislative Yuans, and lowering the threshold for amending the Constitution.

Harvard Moves Chinese Program to Taipei

Harvard University will relocate its summer Mandarin program from Beijing Language and Culture University to National Taiwan University (NTU) starting next year. Harvard’s Mandarin-language academy has been held in Beijing since 2004. Program director Jennifer Liu said the decision to move to Taipei was due to a “perceived lack of friendliness” from the Chinese university, citing the examples of inadequate access to housing and classrooms for the program’s students and bans on certain student celebrations.

The switch to Taipei allows NTU to widen its international engagement and enables Harvard students to become more familiar with Taiwan. Beyond intensive language courses, the students in the summer program will participate in trips and extracurricular activities to engage with Taiwanese culture and society.