Wed, Jul 12, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Pension cut another legislative folly

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水

The passing of the amendment to the Statute Governing Preferential Treatment for Retired Presidents and Vice Presidents (卸任總統副總統禮遇條例), which greatly reduces the pensions for presidents and vice presidents, has given the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) a reason to be excited.

The amendment slashes presidential pensions to an amount well below the total annual NT$18 million (US$554,400) package that former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) receives. Specifically, the package would be only NT$11 million the first year after a president steps down (the amendment will go into effect next January) and NT$8 million per year after three years.

Under the new rules, preferential treatment would be extended for the same number of years as the person's term in office. In other words, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) would be entitled to eight years of preferential treatment after 2008. Lee, however, is entitled to 12 more years of preferential treatment, on top of the seven years that he has already received to reflect the 19 years he spent first as vice president and then president.

Of course, the KMT is delighted by the amendment's passing because it deals a heavy blow to Chen. In fact, the amendment hit two birds with one stone -- not only did it slash Chen's benefits, but it preserved former vice president Lien Chan's (連戰) current pension.

Lien, therefore, can go on collecting benefits befitting of a retired US president but not a retired US vice president, including monthly payouts in excess of NT$460,000. The president, meanwhile, is eligible for only NT$250,000 per month upon retirement.

Lien's family members recently swore that they would no longer receive any excessive preferential treatment, but now they do not have to deliver on that promise.

The amendment, when put into effect, translates into doting on Lien, sheltering Lee and bulldozing Chen. This result is the product of pure politicking.

The amendment is poles apart from the US' approach to providing retired presidents with preferential treatment, due to the nasty partisan politics behind it. The US' presidential retirement package is derived from an era in which presidents were expected to show self-restraint and be upstanding.

Many retired presidents had to become lawyers or judges after their terms in order to avoid destitution -- an embarrassing phenomenon for the nation.

For example, presiding over cases litigated by an attorney who was once the country's president was a sticky situation for judges. Former presidents becoming chairmen of companies also proved to be problematic.

So, the US established a system that allowed former presidents to live out their remaining years in relative comfort and safety. To that end, the content of such preferential treatment is more or less as follows:

First, to guarantee a former US president a life free of worries upon retirement, a lifelong monthly pension is provided.

Second, to safeguard a former president's dignity and reputation, an office and staff are also provided, with related transportation and other costs borne by the government.

Third, to guarantee a former president's safety and security, the government also provides him or her with the necessary protection.

Fourth, the scale of the above preferential treatments is not to exceed what is reasonably required. For example, the former president's monthly pension is not significantly more than an acting Cabinet secretary's salary; he or she can only employ one staffer for his or her office and protection is not provided beyond 10 years after he or she leaves the White House.

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