As the election campaign heats up, both the ruling and opposition parties are making wild election promises. Recently, someone suggested that the allowances for retired farmers be raised from NT$3,000 to NT$4,000. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) then immediately asked the Executive Yuan to find ways to do it. Not to be outdone, the KMT and the PFP upped the ante, suggesting that the allowances be raised to NT$5,000. The pan-blue camp suspects that the government is facing financial problems, and yet they are getting the government to spend even more. Their attitude is hard to understand.
College-tuition fees have become a focus of public debate recently. The Executive Yuan said it would find ways to make student loans interest free. The DPP's legislative caucus suggested that public universities and colleges suspend tuition hikes for two years, and the educational deductions from income tax be raised. The KMT-PFP camp then immediately followed suit, demanding that student loans be made interest free. These policies would cost NT$17 billion, but no one knows where the money will come from.
To pay for the pensions of retiring teachers, Premier Yu Shyi-kun decided to draw up a NT$20 billion to NT$30 billion special budget and help the local governments solve the problem. The Ministry of Education is still racking its brains over how to raise the money.
Certainly, caring for the people's welfare is the responsibility of government officials and public figures. However, caring for the people should not mean throwing out small favors during election campaigns. Instead, it should mean building sound, reasonable systems to guarantee everyone's interests. For example, the national annuity issue involves social justice and tax responsibilities, as well as long-term financial health that is necessary to ensure the sustainability of the annuity system. However, some candidates are not so interested in building a healthy system. They only want to fight for the interests of some particular groups and win their votes.
In recent years, the sluggish economy has caused unemployment to rise. The government's falling tax revenues have been followed by various social problems. Facing the plethora of problems, the political parties can't just take stopgap measures. They need to understand and tackle the source of the problems.
For example, given Taiwan's current per capita income, most people shouldn't have any difficulty paying for tuition fees. The primary problem is the families of unemployed people, for whom the tuition fees are a great burden. It is good to see needy people getting help, be it interest-free student loans, tuition subsidies or tuition breaks. However, government policy must not blur the boundary between the public and private domains. Nor should the government turn public affairs into a charity enterprise.
The government is broke and yet it must pay for higher allowances for retired farmers, retirement pensions for teachers, interest-free student loans, and so on. Each of these items cost tens of billions of NT dollars. Without raising taxes and without floating debt, where will the money come from?
Instead of engaging in positive policy competition, the political parties are trying to buy off voters with pork barrels. This is a regression for democracy. As campaign promises fly like confetti, the public should demand that candidates and parties clarify how they plan to raise funds to make good on their promises.