President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) recently attended a seminar on agricultural development in Kaohsiung's Kangshan Township along with three top representatives of southern farmer's associations.
In the course of the meeting, a farmer raised the point that for eight years the allowances for retired farmers have not been adjusted and asked whether consideration would be given to raising such allowances from the current NT$3,000 to NT$4,000.
In reply, the president stated he had already formally requested that the Cabinet and Council of Agriculture assess the situation. He added that when the opinions gathered had been consolidated, he would then move to obtain the support of all parties.
It is very clear that the president did not immediately assent to the request. He merely indicated that appropriate administrative agencies would evaluate it and that he would also need to obtain the support of the legislature.
However, long before the delicate work of political matchmaking had even begun, the news got out, and the opposition parties not only immediately expressed their support for the idea but even proposed upping the ante.
Even if a whiff of doubt can be detected in public opinion, with only eight short months remaining before the presidential election, the heavy odor of politics has already overpowered all rational discourse on the matter.
After all, this is a proposal that was first thrown out by an opposition party chairman and then presented to the president in the form of feedback from farmers. It would appear that if the proposal is actually raised by the appropriate administrative agency, the gentlemen of the legislature wouldn't try to fight it.
We all know that today the nation's finances are faced with difficulties. On the earlier issue of the six laws related to finance and economics, the opposition parties were never short of stern and righteous words asking, "Where will we get the money?"
Why don't they have similar worries about the matter of allowances for retired farmers? I recall that years ago, when the bill proposing to subsidize retired farmers was still in the legislature, it became the subject of intense battles. Why is there a sense of such harmony now? Is it because the country has more money? Or is it expediency -- coming together for the sake of the election?
Take an additional look at the recent so-called "high tuition policy," which has been so controversial. Calls for subsidies and tuition-free education have arisen here and there. Here also, the fundamental question of "where will we get the money?" must be answered.
As the saying goes, "There is no such thing as a free lunch." How true! Surely the taxpayers will pick up the tab in the end. Citizens, clear your minds and think about these matters carefully. After all, you hold the ballots that will decide this election.
Wu Hui-lin is a research fellow at the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research.
Translated by Ethan Harkness