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Tzu Chi drops controversial development project (update)

Tzu Chi drops controversial development project (update)

Taipei, March 16 (CNA) The Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, the nation's largest charity organization, announced Monday that it will withdraw an application to develop a protected plot of land in Neihu District in Taipei.
"Because society has yet to reach a consensus on the issue, the foundation is withdrawing the development project," Tzu Chi vice president Wang Tuan-cheng said at a news conference in Hualien, where the foundation is based.
Wang said the foundation has been deeply disturbed by the controversy over the project and will take a hard look at itself in light of the incident, which has also raised questions about the organization's finances. Though he is the brother of Tzu Chi founder Master Cheng Yen, Wang said he is not involved in the foundation's finances.
He stressed, however, that the foundation has "heard the voices" from outside, and "will move in step with the times" to demonstrate its determination to reform.
Among substantive reform measures being considered are expanding the foundation's board of directors and supervisors and making its finances more transparent, Wang said.
Tzu Chi will invite people trusted by the public with experience in reforming organizations to serve on the board and represent society in overseeing the foundation's practices, Wang said.
On the financial side, Wang said Tzu Chi will make its finances public starting on March 25.
It will initially release financial statements related to its various projects, followed by a second stage when it will disclose the finances of the foundation's "four main missions" -- charity, medicine, education and humanistic culture.
All private donors, regardless of how much they donate, will also be able to verify their donations online starting on March 20, in addition to the original system in which each donation was acknowledged publicly.
The development project sparked controversy because the foundation had hoped to have parcels of land located in a protected area of Neihu rezoned to allow development.
The foundation applied to the city government in 2005 to have the land rezoned into a social and welfare park.
But the idea has not been supported by previous Taipei mayors Ma Ying-jeou (1998-2006) and Hau Lung-bin (2006-2014).
Incumbent Mayor Ko Wen-je's questioning of the project earlier this year triggered a heated war of words between him and Buddhist Master Shih Chao-hui.
Ko said he did not support the overdevelopment of the protected area but would wait for a professional assessment by the city's urban development commission.
The planned park on the northern side of scenic Dahu Park would cover 44,829 square meters and include a 10-story building.
Critics of the project contend the plot of land is located in an environmentally sensitive area and developing it would lead to a major disaster in the event of landslides or earthquakes.
Approval of the project would also set a bad precedent by allowing development in a protected area, they argued.
Because the park is located on a slope and the project's land area exceeds one hectare, it would have to conform to the requirements of an environmental assessment if given the go ahead by the city, critics have said.
Supporters of the plan argue that the foundation will build a new drainage system and flood detention pool as part of the project and has pledged that there would be no risk of flooding in the event of torrential rains.
They contend that the foundation purchased the protected area and has paid taxes according to the law and has engaged in water and soil conservation. It has also promised to donate 30 percent of the land to the city but will still take care of its groundskeeping needs, Tzu Chi's backers say.
They also argue that the development project will be used to train volunteers and for other educational purpose, and should be treated as a cultural and educational facility not subject to an environmental assessment if under five hectares. (By Lee Hsien-fong and Lilian Wu)

Updated : 2021-09-19 21:18 GMT+08:00