Editorial: Lack of oversight can come at a price

Poor planning and oversight of policing in Taiwan permeate all levels of society, which are easy to spot from the thousands of callous street vendors to “do-your-worst” traffic breakers – sensory overloads that are enough to baffle tourists and first-time visitors out of incomprehension.

The lack in the rule of law is apparent even in the small aspects of life. Examples of such phenomenon can be witnessed on a day-to-day basis, from motor scooters who zip through sidewalks full of pedestrians to parallel parking on a two-way lane, or eateries taking up storefront arcade as an “extension” of their services. But such acts of selfishness often go unpunished because the rule of law is not strictly enforced. “Chabuduoism,” a literal Chinese translation of “more or less” or “near enough” in English, has long been a word coined by long-time expatriates in Taiwan to sarcastically describe the way things are done on the island.

Yet, the laissez-faire attitude and “my way or the highway” mindset deeply ingrained in majority of the public is a stark contrast to the “friendliness” moniker often touted by government officials and the general public.

But looking from a bigger context, the sad truth is that oftentimes, people would have to stage a barrage of equally loud complaints – or even worse, sacrifice their lives – before the government takes any action to reflect on their misgivings.

Put simply, the series of food scandals in recent years or the illegally-constructed bowling alley in Taoyuan that killed six firemen in a fire hazard all point to complacency as a deeper reason that oversight can easily slack in Taiwan.

The lack of policing again got the better of Taiwan when a 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck Tainan on February 6, killing 116 people, of which 114 alone came from the collapsed Weiguan Jinlong apartment complex. The tragedy later stirred speculations about the building’s construction quality, – especially the materials used to build it – prompting prosecutors to launch a probe into the collapse.

According to authorities, the blueprints they found led them to believe that 50 percent of the concrete beam stirrups were skimmed on the construction of Weiguan’s supporting columns.

Shoddy buildings and poor workmanship are not unheard of. But judging by the way things roll in Taiwan, the government usually turns a blind eye unless something deadly happens – consequently leading to covering-up, flip-flopping and finger-pointing.

Another example of the perceived dangers waiting to happen at a moment’s notice can also be said with shop signboards, which protrude from high-rise buildings in all shapes and sizes. But contrary to Hong Kong or Japan, whose cityscapes are famed for their beautiful high-rises and colorful neon signboards, Taiwan has no validation scheme to encourage better maintenance by signboard owners. Being an island nation plagued by seismic activities and typhoon bashing every summer, leniency should not have been an option.

To put it bluntly, how long would it take for another fatal calamity to happen before the government begins to clamp down on dangerous signboards and illegal constructions when the next typhoon blows or earthquake strikes.

With regard to unscrupulous food makers, pundits and netizens have questioned the outcome of Ting Hsin’s not-guilty court verdict, sarcastically saying that the latter managed to escape punishment because its adulterated cooking oils have not led to deaths amongst consumers. To make matters worse, observers believe that the verdict was not designed to reassure the public, but only to cover the government’s own major oversight.

Judging by the way Taiwanese cities are built, the island doesn’t value orderliness as something aesthetically pleasing, a quality that can be observed in many developed countries. Despite this, the government should at least play a more active role in policing regulations and imposing the rule of law in all levels of society, including the construction industry, to avoid another Weiguan Jinglong collapse or the Ting Hsin food scandal, just to name a few.

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