Amid public concern over the expected rate increase associated with the government’s planned healthcare reform, frustration over years of stagnant salaries and weariness over the lingering high unemployment rate, it’s dumbfounding to find the government choosing this moment to propose raises for its own officials.
On Monday, the legislature’s Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee passed a preliminary reading of a draft bill to give government officials bigger salaries.
If it becomes law, over 300 senior government officials would receive raises next year, with pay for officials such as Presidential Office Secretary-General Liao Liou-yi (廖了以) and National Security Council Secretary-General Hu Wei-jen (胡為真) set to skyrocket from NT$180,000 (US$6,015.42) to about NT$310,000. The draft bill, if it clears the legislature, would cost the government, or rather the taxpayer, NT$61.1 million annually.
The Ministry of Civil Service said the draft bill was not a self-serving effort, but a move aimed at constructing a systematic mechanism to govern officials’ salaries. The pay raise simply reset the Presidential Office secretary-general and National Security Council secretary-general’s salaries back to their initial levels — on a par with the premier’s — the ministry said, adding that while the draft bill suggested raising the officials’ salaries, their monthly associated expense accounts would be adjusted accordingly, so their overall monthly incomes would remain unchanged.
No matter how the ministry scurries to justify its move, however, the fact remains that it has failed to live up to President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) talk of striving for social justice, feeling the people’s pain and advising his officials on the importance of minding public opinion.
If the Ma administration really attaches such importance to social justice and empathy for the people, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-controlled legislative committee would have thought twice before passing such an ill-timed proposal.
Comparing the raises with the stagnant salaries of the vast majority of Taiwanese, it is no wonder that a growing sense of being exploited has taken root among the public.
Aside from reports of the high percentage of new graduates unable to secure a full-time job, the latest tally by the Ministry of the Interior also indicated that the number of low-income households totaled 110,055 at the end of September, accounting for 267,717 people, a year-on-year increase of 10,000 households and 20,000-odd people.
This is not to mention the widening of the nation’s income disparity and the apparent erosion of its middle class.
Many of Ma’s promises have proven empty since he took office in May 2008, such as his promise to donate his salary to charity.
Despite these past disappointments, however, one would still hope that the Ma administration would work to draft laws that better prevent social injustice, including those regarding the distribution of resources, rather than exploiting taxpayers and worsening the divide between rich and poor.