Taiwanese democracy revolves around electoral politics. As we have elections every year, the cheers of victory usually linger until the next election. To win the support of voters, political parties have to present a big bowl of beef to satisfy the voters' demands for concrete policies. But I am curious: voters receive a universal, nine-year compulsory education, but they don't know, nor do they want to know, where the beef comes from.
Does it fall from the sky or is it bought by the candidates out of their own pockets? Neither, as a matter of fact. It is our taxpayers' hard-earned money. Politicians have the power to be generous at the expense of others and then achieve their objective of winning power.
If we look at the government's finances, we find that since 1990 surpluses have been replaced by deficits. The government debt will be at least NT$3.3 trillion by the end of this year. According to the Ministry of Finance, the central government has accumulated a debt of NT$3.1843 trillion. On top of this figure, if we add a debt of NT$365.8 billion from local governments and a long-term debt of NT$756.3 billion from non-operating funds, the total debt of various levels of government is already NT$4.3064 trillion.
According to the KMT's estimate, the total government debt is NT$10.9918 trillion. Of course, the KMT's estimate needs to be verified. Nevertheless, the total debt of various levels of government is at least NT$3.5 trillion.
To boost the economy and increase job opportunities, the government has offered more than NT$50 billion to fight SARS and NT$58.4 billion to expand public construction projects.
At the same time, it has promised an increased subsidy of more than NT$8 billion for retired farmers and interest-free loans to offset tuition hikes. The special budget of NT$30 billion for pension funds for teachers and NT$680 billion for the financial reconstruction fund are not yet included.
In principle, the government is supposed to develop more sources of income and reduce expenses. The tax revenues that the government depends on have not increased along with economic growth, but have decreased. Whatever party is in power dares not cut expenditures on services the public has become used to having. Consequently, our electoral politics have created a contradiction in government finance and a deadlock that has remain unresolved since 1991.
The government cannot deal with the increase in expenditure that result from promises made by parties to provide incentives and subsidies to voters during election campaigns. At the same time, political parties promise voters that they will not increase taxes, and perhaps even lower them. The public is unaware of this contradiction, always believing that the government is capable and resourceful. The public never considers that we will eventually have to pay for these benefits.
The deadlock in government finances leads to the question of who will pay for the government debt. Our future generations will pay for it, but they are not stupid. Demographic statistics have repeatedly shown that the population of young people is declining drastically. From 1990 to 2000, the number of children aged under 14 fell by 825,000. Besides, in this electronic age, many young people do not consider it their responsibility to support their parents nor do they want to raise children to provide security in old age. If such a trend continues, who is going to pay for the government's huge debt?
Now referendums have become a hot debate, just like the holy cow in India that one dares not oppose. Since referendums have become an efficient tool for the public to express its will, shall we, the taxpayers, rise up to demand a referendum on not paying taxes?
Yu Tzong-shian is a member of the Academia Sinica.
Translated by Grace Shaw
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