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Five Pingtung County officials to step down November 1

Five Pingtung County officials to step down November 1

Pingtung County Magistrate Tsao Chi-hung finally apologized Tuesday, almost two weeks after the scandal over gutter oil erupted. Saying on behalf of his colleagues in the county government, "We respect the farmer as our teacher," Tsao expressed his regrets over the handling of the oil controversy and announced that the heads of five agencies would step down at the beginning of November after carrying out inspection and inventory of underground factories in the area.

Tsao’s current term expires December 25, and even if the five agency heads named Tuesday do not step down, two of them are classed as administrative officers who must leave office at the same time as Tsao. The remaining three heads can be transferred to other positions if they step down ahead of Tsao’s departure, thus if they were to step down on November 1 it would have little effect on their personal rights and careers.

The five agency heads slated to leave office November 1 are Local Administration Director Su Chun-yuan, Director of the Agriculture Bureau Lin Ching-he, Director of Urban and Rural Development Lee Chi-hung, Director of the Bureau of Public Health Lee Chien-ting, and Director of the EPA Lin Ya-wen.

Tsao has been widely criticized in media and on the Internet for failing to come out and take responsibility for oversights and mistakes even as food producers affected by the oil scandal such as Chef A-chi have bowed down to apologize to their customers. Tsao said county officials will not shirk their responsibility and are working to ensure that no one else will be forced to apologize for these problems in the future.

The source of the oil which created the gutter oil scandal has been traced back to an underground oil plant in Pingtung County. County officials apparently failed to detect the presence of the tainted oil despite ten inspections and checks over a four-year period, leaving it up to a persistent farmer to pursue his hunches and ferret out the source of the bad oil. Tsao has been widely criticized for making only one public appearance since news of the scandal broke out two weeks ago, with detractors accusing him of holing up and hiding from the media and the public.

Tsao admitted that inspectors from the county Environmental Protection Agency were remiss in checking only for pollution during five inspection trips to the underground factory. He added that if health bureau officials had been more conscientious and aggressive during a 2010 inspection trip, the current scandal might well have been avoided.

Tsao attributed the problems in performance to improper training as well as inadequate manpower. He said only one person was available to conduct checks of underground factories and there are a total of only ten EPA inspectors who work around the clock in three rotating shifts. "All of this is not their fault,” claimed Tsao, “it is the fault of the system."