Tue, Jul 29, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Making the most out of the travel subsidies

By Stanley Yen 嚴長壽

In an effort to prevent civil servants from misusing the National Travel Card program by buying consumer goods instead of using the scheme for travel expenses, the Cabinet recently banned the cross-regional purchase of gold jewelry with the card. In the last few days, there have been rumors that the purchase of electronic appliances will also be banned, resulting in quite a backlash from bureaucrats. One really doesn't know whether to laugh or cry about the stratagems devised by civil servants to buy consumer goods.

The whole problem with vacation subsidies can actually be traced back to changes made by the government at different stages of the nation's development and in different contexts. The government finally realized that "rest facilitates even greater productivity" and so reformulated its original system of rewards for not taking vacations into a system of vacation subsidies.

In order to encourage people to broaden their experience by traveling abroad more often, the subside for traveling abroad was NT$12,000 while the subsidy for domestic travel was only NT$6,000. Nevertheless, most bureaucrats chose to travel within Taiwan -- because they were not required to keep receipts for their expenses.

During the KMT era, I urged the government to understand the dilemma facing the domestic tourism and leisure industry -- namely, that in every seven-day week, there were only two business days on the weekend while all other days were "off days." Of course, it was impossible to improve the climate for the tourism industry under those conditions.

In the period when Huang Ta-chou (黃大洲) served as the convener of the Cabinet's Council for the Promotion of Tourism, an initial attempt to encourage civil servants to travel domestically was made by equalizing the subsidy for foreign and domestic travel -- to NT$8,000. This can be considered the first revision of the policy on vacation subsidies. Unfortunately, civil servants remained accustomed to treating the subsidies as a generic bonus and the benefits to the tourism industry was quite limited.

A new opportunity to resolve these problems presented itself when Premier Yu Shyi-kun came into office and began to make tourism a priority of his administration. The government knew that only by giving local businesses in the tourism industry more opportunity at off-peak times could the industry improve the quality of its services and develop its potential for drawing visitors from abroad.

Along these lines, the National Travel Card is intended to be used by civil servants staying overnight outside of their home regions during off-peak times. It was hoped that the system would achieve results the original system never did achieve -- making civil servants the engine driving the development of the domestic tourism industry. Unfortunately, the civil servants must have misunderstood the government's original motivation. Otherwise, the problems we see today would never have arisen.

I urge all civil servants to understand the government's purpose in providing "bonuses" at a time when many industries have been impacted by SARS and forced to lay off workers or reduce salaries. Civil servants were among those least affected by the epidemic. They should take advantage of travel subsidies to escape the pressure of work and truly relax both mentally and physically.

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