Nantou, Taiwan, March 15 (CNA) President Chen Shui-bian expressed regret Thursday over slow progress in school reconstruction in the central Taiwan disaster zones hard hit by a devastating earthquake that rattled Taiwan on Sept. 21, 1999.
Chen made the remarks during an inspection tour of several campus and community reconstruction projects in the central county of Nantou, which took the brunt of the earthquake.
Chen said he was surprised and saddened after learning of the true reasons behind the delay in reconstruction of the county's Yenfeng and Neihu elementary schools.
According to local government officials, the Yenfeng reconstruction project has been hindered by an ownership lawsuit between the school and a retired school principal over his residence, a school property.
Chen said he would not blame any individual persons for the delay in school reconstruction. "But I still feels it is unthinkable that an educator can ignore youngsters' education rights simply for his own personal interests," he added.
As for the Neihu Elementary School, local government officials claimed that its reconstruction has been delayed by National Taiwan University's (NTU) reluctance to provide a tract of land in its experimental forest for the reconstruction project.
"Since the NTU experimental forest is basically a national property, I hope the university authority can drop its parochial attitude to facilitate the elementary school reconstruction project," Chen said, adding that primary education is a critical part of Taiwan's education system.
A total 293 schools in central Taiwan were destroyed in the September 21 earthquake, of which 41 have not been commissioned to suitable construction contractors. None of the 61 schools whose reconstruction projects are handled by the Ministry of Education have so far been completed.
Various private organizations sponsor reconstruction of 108 schools and local governments are responsible for reconstruction of 124 schools. Several private groups-sponsored reconstruction projects have been completed.
Chen said he hopes that all relevant government agencies and responsible officials will adjust their mentality and use new thinking and strategy to accelerate reconstruction. "In addition to hardware, we must also reform campus software in order to make all rebuilt schools cradles of new education," the president urged.
Earlier in the day, Chen inspected the Fukung Elementary School reconstruction project.
Chen said he is pleased to learn that students' parents and community volunteers have taken part in the school's reconstruction project and that new concepts have been introduced in campus design and reconstruction to ensure security and greener pastures.
Before coming to Fukung school, Chen presided over the inauguration of rebuilt Wuhsi Bridge in neighboring Taichung County. The bridge, which links Taichung County's Wufeng village to Nantou's Tsaotun township, was destroyed in the September 21 earthquake.
President Chen offered NT$100,000 in cash to reconstruction staff as the project was completed one month ahead of the schedule.