Lots of fun in Taipei County….

Taipei county is one of the most politically important areas of the country, and both the KMT and the DPP have been courting it. The County was recently promoted to a higher administrative status in the ROC’s administrative system:

Taipei County was upgraded to a quasi-special municipality at the beginning of this month, and thus is entitled to certain rights normallly reserved for special municipalities.

A special municipality is a city under direct Cabinet control with “a population of more than 1.5 million” and has “special needs in political, economic, cultural and urban development” according to the Municipal Self-Governance Act (直轄市自治法).

Taipei and Kaohsiung cities are the only two special administrative cities.

The China Post offers further comment:

Taiwan has only two special municipalities, whose rank is on a par with that of provinces. They are Taipei and Kaohsiung. The province of Taiwan still exists in name. It doesn’t function.

If everything goes according to Chou’s schedule, his county may become a special municipality at the beginning of next year.

The reason the mayoralties of Taipei and Kaohsiung are so important is because they are functionally the equivalent of governors, not mayors. They have a great deal of administrative independence, large budgets, and control over the local branches of central government functions, such as the police. Now Taipei county is going to join their ranks. Down here in Taichung there has been much grumbling over the years about Taichung’s failure to ascend to these lofty heights.

The controversy arose when KMT magistrate Chou Hsi-wei declared himself the Great Decider of Taipei County. Let’s let the China Post to carry the ball:

President Chen Shui-bian has made 43 generals so far this year.

He was very liberal, to say the least, to win support of the military, the traditional power base of the Kuomintang. The officers’ corps used to swear loyalty to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, who headed the Kuomintang.

Chou Hsi-wei, magistrate of Taipei county, is emulating the president. He wants to win support of the county police.

So Chou tried to outdo Chen by making 140 police colonels yesterday.

There’s a difference, though.

Whereas the president has every right to make generals, the Kuomintang magistrate of Taiwan’s most populous county could only provide a lame alibi.

Chou, who pinned one more star on every one of the new colonels in a promotion ceremony at his office in Panchiao in the morning, claimed he has the power to advance their career.

That power, he said, comes from the decision the Legislative Yuan made in the last summer to change the status of his county to that of “special municipality pro tem.”

Chou’s argument is that since Taipei County is on its way to being a special municipality, he has the authority to promote police officers. In Taiwan, where the police are run centrally rather than locally, the National Police Administration took a dim view of this usurpation of national authority.

However, the NPA issued a statement disputing Chou’s claim, saying that promotions of police officers under local governments must be authorized by the agency.

The agency said that Taipei County’s decision had jeopardized the nation’s police promotion system and the Ministry of Civil Service would not raise the salaries of promoted officials announced by the Taipei County Government.

The agency said it would announce its “real” list of promotions of Taipei County police officers later this month.

Another report noted:

In a statement released in the afternoon, the NPA said the Taipei County Government does not possess the authority to make the promotions because it is not a “special municipality” but only a similar administration.

The highest authority governing the nation’s police force remains at the MOI, the statement said.

The MOI consigned certain police work to local-level municipal and county governments through the NPA.

The Ministry of the Interior (MOI) properly has jurisdiction over promotions. Even the normally pro-KMT China Post couldn’t stomach this:

Chou retorted by claiming all those officers deserve promotion “right now and on the spot” for they have rendered “meritorious service” over the past year and a half. He was elected at the end of 2005.

They got the promotion in just a couple of years. Ordinarily, that promotion may come in a dozen years, according to the NPA career management system.

Elections are the reason why Chou gave the unprecedented mass promotion to the top police officers he nominally commands in his capacity as magistrate.

Though he himself is not running for any election, Chou has to electioneer for Kuomintang candidates. Voters will go to the polls to elect a new Legislative Yuan on Jan. 12 and a new president on March 22 next year.

Police should officially remain neutral. They may help candidates when they are not on duty, however.

More massive promotions will follow, Chou promised. “There will be a second batch and a third batch of promotionse shortly,” he said.

Observers often note that over in China provincial and local authorities often declare themselves independent of Beijing. The same thing happens here, though not as obviously, because the law is administrative rather than normative, and has no ethical force for those underneath it. Last week the Taipei City government rightly pointed out that the DPP’s UN Torch relay was illegal under the law since they hadn’t applied for permission (too bad the city didn’t take the same attitude toward Shih Ming-te’s faux protests). President Chen then challenged the city government to arrest him. It’s nice to defy authority….except when you are authority. Then you simply signal that that law is irrelevant if you have power. And that is the wrong signal to be sending in a democracy.