The following report was released on April 10th, 2014, the day of the withdrawal from the Legislative Yuan, with the contents of the People’s Assembly held on April 5th. The original Chinese language text can be seen here.
Representative politics in Taiwan has broken down completely. The black box decision-making process of the government prevents the participation of the people and the Legislature does not comply with the views of the people. People have thus taken up the action of occupying the legislature, not only to protect democracy, but to retake people’s right to engage in decision making and revive the vitality of Taiwanese democracy. We want to show the world that Taiwan can make pluralistic dialogue and democratic oversight, bringing together collective wisdom, creating large policies through collective advocacy.
The government holds public opinion in contempt, and so we have organized assemblies to demonstrate our will. This “People’s Assembly Opinion Report” is all the more the crystallization of the people’s collective wisdom. On April 5th, 2014, on Qingdao East Road (青島東路) and Jinan Road (濟南路) outside the Legislative Yuan, we organized the “People’s Assembly,” for the sake of oversight. Before the meeting, two experts introduced the differences between the Executive Yuan and the civil society version of the Cross-Straits Oversight Bill (兩岸協議監督條例), and then discussion was initiated. Participants, with twenty people per working group as led by a moderator, can compare the advantages and disadvantages of each version, as well as what are the differences, and raise the core values and expectations that they have for the Cross-Straits Oversight Bill. In the end, each working group comes up with a summary of their conclusions and makes a report. One thousand people on the streets and in the legislature collectively deliberated and raised a number of policy proposals. This is a rare event seen in global democracy and is representative of the vitality of the Taiwanese people’s pursuit of grassroots democracy!
Every working group made a report of their conclusions, which were carefully recorded. The reports of the 51 groups are summed in some common ideas regarding what was commonly advocated and compiled here in this “People’s Assembly Opinion Report.” In summary, the people’s assembly’s views on the need for oversight over cross-strait trade bills can be summed up in the following six points.
- That citizens have a wide range of opportunities, substantive, and detailed participation in the handling and supervision of cross-strait agreements, as cross-straits agreements involve matters of sovereignty and the people’s welfare at a large scale. People shall have the right to participate in decision-making through direct democratic means of referendum.
- Information will be open and transparent, with full protections for the people’s right to know
- Regarding the contents of the Cross-Straits Oversight Bill, national security, democratic freedoms, cultural identity, the environment and ecology, and distribution of justice and protection of human rights values must be maintained. These values must be placed before economic development
- The assessment of the impact of the cross-strait agreement must be comprehensive, long-term, real, and objective. Outside of the government assessment, the independent assessment of civil society should also be taken into consideration, and this assessment needs to pay attention to the impact of the agreement on small, weaker industries, and labor
- The legislature must have substantive power to review and oversee cross-strait agreements, as well as to enact the relevant systematic reforms, and avoid situations in which legislators neither conduct review nor oversight and only listen to the will of the party above the will of the people
- Cross-strait agreements must be based on reciprocal negotiations and the principle of safeguarding sovereignty. The status of Taiwan as a sovereign state should not be overlooked, nor should its democratic and free government system be sacrificed
Under these six common claims are some of the individual opinions of working groups. The opinions of the people are abundant and diverse, we will also release the summaries of the individual conclusions of working groups.
Finally, the people are concerned that the opposition party may be caught up in political calculation and planning, and will be unable to put oversight into effect through an unworkable birdcage referendum act. We ask that the opposition party face squarely the people’s worry, and take on the task of legalizing the Cross-Straits Oversight Bill with the spirit of democratic oversight in mind. The people are the creators of the law! President, members of the Executive Yuan and legislators of the Executive Yuan, your power comes from the people. Please listen attentively to the voice of the people, and please accept the leadership of the people!
Below are the contents of the six large proposals from the People’s Assembly:
1) Civic Participation Must Expand, Be Substantial, Detailed, and Involve the Full and Equal Participation of Citizens
The cross-strait agreement deeply affects the rights and interests of the people, as well as matters of national security. In order to implement constitutional principles of sovereignty, people should have the right to participate in all stages before the signing of the Cross-Straits Oversight Bill, with concrete participation at all levels. Cross-strait oversight procedures should be clearly defined at all levels for citizen participation. If this takes the form of a public hearing or meeting, participants must have a concrete and vital stake in participation, whether from a social group, scholars, or everyday citizens. Representatives of industry cannot only be wealthy capitalist, there must also be labor representatives. Participation at all levels must ensure that the views of vulnerable groups are presented.
It is the responsibility of the government to provide information which allows the participants of public hearings or meetings to clearly understand the contents of the agreement and assessments of its impact, so as to avoid an information disparity between government representatives and civil representatives. The number of public hearings and the time allotted to them should be sufficient and representatives sufficiently diverse in order that the views of all sectors can be fully expressed. The government must concretely respond to the questions of experts and people at the meeting and the meeting cannot proceed in a one-way matter. What is said at meetings must be widely disseminated and publicized, and incorporated into government assessments, and investigation and oversight in the legislature must be founded on public opinion. The government must explain reasons as to why it does not hold public meetings.
In addition, public hearings or meetings often take the form of one-way expression, with the general population lacking the opportunity to participate. Therefore, oversight meetings should have a democratic form, with more direct, detailed, and equal participation, in order that there are opportunities for wide-ranging participation, allowing people of different strata of society and different places to equally participate with sufficient information to jointly hold substantive discussion, and through dialogue express collective views.
By means of civic participation in cross-strait agreements, not only will this allow them to convey their views to the government and legislature, requesting that they listen to the voice of the people, but the people can also through a direct democratic means decide whether they agree to cross-strait agreements or not. Many small groups believe that it is necessary to incorporate a referendum into mechanisms for civic participation and advocate that for cross-strait agreements which touch upon sovereignty or the people’s welfare, this must pass by a referendum. The civil society version of the Cross-Straits Oversight Bill incorporates a referendum mechanism. Although the civil society version of the bill advocates that referendum on cross-strait agreements is not limited by the number of voters in the referendum law, some groups advocate the amendment of the “Birdcage Referendum Law,” allowing people to use referendum to maintain the people’s livelihood and national sovereignty in cross-strait agreements when representative politics breaks down.
2) Information Should Be Open And Transparent
The precondition of effective participation in sufficient information. The people must have sufficient information in order to wisely consider whether the contents of a cross-strait agreement may have effects on the rights and interests of the people and what the overall impact on Taiwanese society would be, as well as to make rational opinions, and implement substantive participation. Consequently, at all stages of the cross-strait agreement, information should be open and transparent, there should be a variety of channels for disseminating information (such as public hearings, meetings, websites, comics, advertisements, leaflets, etc.). The contents of this information should be clear and easy to understand in order that most people can understand it, the contents should be sufficient, complete and accurate, and information should not be left out in a manner requiring further investigation.
One group believes that the government may need to keep some information secret in external negotiations as chip, but the right of what is “confidential” should not be arbitrarily determined by executive power, but should be defined by the law. On the grounds of confidentiality should not one fail to disclose information in a manner violating the people’s right to information.
3) Ensure National Security, Human Rights Values, And the Rights Of Minorities
The contents of cross-strait agreements must maintain national security, democracy and freedom, cultural identity, and environmental protection, as well protect the rights and interests of the disadvantaged. Workers who have suffered injury from industry must actively maintain their right to work. In order to realize social justice and avoid the consequence of excessive bias on both sides of the cross-strait agreement, it is necessary to establish feedback mechanisms of beneficiary industries in order to prevent uneven development which accentuates the gap between the rich and the poor. These values should be placed before economic development; national security and human rights should not be hurt in the name of economic considerations.
4) Impact Assessment Must Be Fully True
The impact assessment of the contents of the cross-strait agreement must be comprehensive and long-term. Apart from the economic impact, there must be assessments on the impact on national security, democratic freedoms, society and culture, national ecology, equality and justice at all levels, with regard to long-term impact. The government must submit an assessment report at all stages before and after the agreement. Outside of official evaluations, the independent assessment of industry, academic, and civic groups should also be included. Each assessment report should present objective evidences of the advantages and disadvantages of agreements, not just claims that “the advantages are greater than the disadvantages”.
With regard to industry, before the government signs the agreement, it must properly conduct assessments of the effects on industry. In this, the government should play a supporting role, in advising industrial shifts in order to minimize harm. Measures should be signed with the agreement to support weak industries and this should be clearly explained to the public.
5) The Legislature Has The Right To Substantive Investigation
The handling and supervision mechanisms for cross-strait agreements should be carried out under the principle of constitutional division of powers and checks and balances, with executive power leading discussions, and the Legislative Yuan providing an oversight role. The groups involved in the People’s Assembly discussed that discussed that the version of the Cross-Straits Oversight Bill proposed by the Executive Yuan would lead to the domination of executive power and Legislature would not be able to check its power and provide oversight. According to the Executive Yuan’s version, before the signing of a cross-straits agreement, if the legislature is dissatisfied with the agreement, it cannot ask the government to reopen negotiations on the agreement. After the signing of the agreement, there is no provision to amend the agreement after it has been sent to the Legislative Yuan. Although the Legislative Yuan can review the agreement, if this does not take place within three months, the agreement will automatically take effect. Most groups see this as depriving legislature of the power to conduct substantial oversight.
Each group advocates the need for legislature to have the right to substantial oversight, in order allow the views of the people affect decisions on cross-strait agreements through representative democracy. Many groups raised that oversight regulations must give legislature the power to reopen negotiations and amend the terms of the agreement. After the agreement takes effect, legislature must be able to continue to monitor the implementation of the agreement and amend the terms of the agreement if necessary. If major flaws are to be found in the cross-straits agreement, there should be an “emergency brake” mechanism.
There are also some groups that especially believe that, although the civil society version of the Cross-Straits Oversight Bill give legislature greater substantive power, this may lead to lags in decision-making efficiency. Many aspects of the civil society version of the bill are for the sake of protecting human rights, but is this feasible? For example, the civil society version argues that if there are substantive differences between the government’s impact assessment and those of civil society groups, this may require the government to renegotiate the trade agreement with the other side. But will this make the signing of the agreement go to waste? Will legislature participate too much, leading to boycotts between the major parties leading to deadlock and an impasse in decision-making? Some groups therefore point out the need to strike a balance between the substantive oversight ability of the legislature and efficiency in decision-making, and we may need to weigh the pros and cons between these two versions.
As such, many groups also pointed out that implement the substantive oversight powers of legislature in a workable manner, it is necessary for legislators to truly reflect the will of the people, in order that this can affect the cross-straits agreement. Legislators that only listen to the will of their party and not public opinion results in the failure of representative mechanisms of governance. Legislators therefore should be asked to return to their constituencies to inquire as to public opinion and express their views, at the same time, we must lower the threshold for recalls, in order that legislators who violate public opinion can be removed, allowing people to provide oversight over legislature.
6) Negotiations Must Be Conducted On the Basis Of Equality, With Protection Of Sovereignty
Cross-strait agreements must be founded upon the principle of reciprocity and equality. The status of Taiwan as a sovereign state cannot be disregarded and its system of democratic freedoms cannot be sacrificed. The signing of any cross-straits agreement must reject political pressure from the other side, and must conduct assessments of political impact, in order to consider the impact on Taiwan’s national sovereignty and system of democratic freedoms. Many working groups argue that any agreement between the two sides of the strait should be founded on “nation-to-nation” relations rather than “region-to-region” relations. Consequently, some groups argue that cross-strait agreements. As a result, some groups think that oversight mechanisms should rethink the nature of cross-strait relations and improve the legal rank of cross-strait agreements. Some argue that cross-strait agreements should be incorporated into international arbitration mechanisms to resolve disputes and safeguard our interests. Otherwise, if there is loss or harm, even if we make a claim, and the other side can do the same. If the other side does not accept the principles of “international;” arbitration, this may be defined in the form of “membership” in the way of international multilateral agreements.
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