Wed, Mar 09, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Tainan is locked in fight over its budget

By Wang Chin-shou 王金壽

After Tainan city and county’s recent elevation to special municipality status, the Greater Tainan City Government and council are deadlocked. Led by an alliance of independent councilors, the council is demanding that its members be given over NT$10 million (US$340,000) each in an annual engineering fund for local construction projects. Greater Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) has rejected the demand, causing councilors to stop reviewing proposals and reject the mayor’s policy suggestions. Three extraordinary council meetings have already amounted to nothing. With the city more than NT$100 billion in debt, it is hoped that Lai will prevail, so taxpayers’ hard-earned money can be used most effectively.

The budget process includes allocation, review, implementation and oversight. Allocation and implementation fall under the government, review under elected public representatives and oversight under the supervisory powers of the controlling branch of the nation’s five-branch system. No “right of allocation” has been assigned to councilors.

Councilors have a constitutionally protected right to make suggestions on government budget allocations, but not a right to receive allocations. Any demands for a fixed engineering fund will make it impossible to allocate political responsibility for policy implementation failures and this violates the constitutional separation of the legislative and executive powers.

Some may wonder why councilors cannot be given an engineering fund following Tainan’s elevation to special municipality status, since they had a small fund in the past. However, that fund was also controversial and violated constitutional principles. We should also give some more consideration to the fairness and use of the fund.

First, any construction project must go through comprehensive planning and evaluation. Splitting the fund on many small projects is not effective.

Second, councilors are demanding funds and government approval of their applications. However, the councilors represent different districts with different characteristics and environments, which in the past frequently led councilors to borrow from each other. That should be seen as an illegal transfer of public funds.

Third, in the past, Tainan City was urban and Tainan County was rural. These differences meant that these areas had different needs. This raises the question of whether assigning the same amount to all councilors is unfair to those representing rural districts.

Fourth, the number of councilors is based on the number of residents, not the size of a district. Bigger districts with fewer residents can elect one councilor, while smaller districts with more residents might have four or five councilors. If the engineering fund allocation is calculated based on councilor numbers, urban district councilors will have access to more funds than rural district councilors. That will only lead to greater disparity between urban and rural districts.

A democratic system that works for the good of city residents should allow councilors to suggest a comprehensive evaluation based on residential and district needs, under the strict supervision of the council. That would enable the most effective construction and allow every New Taiwan dollar to be spent where it gives the most bang for the buck.

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