Thu, Jan 12, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Taipei is wasting money on fripperies

By Hsu Yu-fang 許又方

People First Party (PFP) presidential candidate James Soong (宋楚瑜) on Friday criticized the Taipei City Government, saying that while it had lots of money to throw at its bid to host the 2017 Summer Universiade, it won’t repay the money it owes the national health insurance system. The city responded by saying that the two matters were different budget items.

From a legal perspective, this seems like good reasoning: Civil servants are not allowed to move funds between different budget items as they see fit. However, if the city government has billions of dollars to throw at the preparations for the Universiade, why doesn’t it consider using that money to pay its national health insurance debt? Or does it actually prefer to sit by and watch as the city’s homeless are forced to sleep in city parks, upsetting city councilors to the point that they applaud clearing the parks with water cannons, instead of using these funds to help the homeless?

If the homeless were to decide to start taking walks at the different sports arenas during the Universiade, and to rest and relieve themselves there, the city would have a big problem on its hands.

The Universiade will gobble up NT$30 billion (US$996 million). Contrast that sum with the homeless people living in the parks in the city’s Wanhua District (萬華), not knowing where their next meal will come from.

The Chinese poet Du Fu (杜甫) wrote: “While the fragrance of meat and wine seeps out from the houses of the wealthy, the bones of the dead lie frozen in the streets.”

While things might not be that bad yet, we are moving in that direction. When the government has money, it does not think to use it to resolve the problems of the disadvantaged, but it does spend it on ostentatious displays of wealth — after the Deaflympics it was the Taipei International Flora Expo, which was followed by the Double Ten National Day celebrations and now there is the Universiade.

In just a few years, the city government has spent in excess of NT$50 billion of public money on such events. One can only wonder how many disadvantaged groups could have benefited from this money if it had been spent on improving social welfare instead.

It is of course true that the government must give comprehensive consideration to all aspects and cannot only pay attention to some groups or certain specific aspects, so it is only reasonable that it sometimes organizes various other activities. However, there is the matter of prioritizing what is important and urgent over less urgent matters — money should go to the areas where it can resolve the most problems. Only then should any remaining funds be spent on those other, hugely expensive, activities.

Spending everything on grandiose events that leave nothing once they are over instead of showing concern for increasingly serious standard of living problems might bring a government temporary praise, but not so in the long run. Wasting public funds will only empty city coffers and increase public debt, which will have a negative effect on future policy implementation and infrastructure construction.

It is difficult to understand why the government continues to behave unrealistically and waste public funds when the economy is in the doldrums and that public debt is building, while constantly talking about clean government, frugality and saving money.

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