There have been reports that the Control Yuan on Aug. 20 again censured the Ministry of the Interior and the Council of Agriculture over the issue of farmers fraudulently receiving welfare subsidies. The issue has drawn a lot of public attention, and observers are pessimistic that the complex problem of people falsely identifying themselves as farmers will be resolved.
Farmers work hard their entire lives, so the government launched the Old-Age Farmers’ Welfare Allowance Program (老農津貼) to assist them in retirement. The intent behind the program is good. Unfortunately, as a result of electoral considerations as well as concerns about farmers’ associations, the regulations on applying for the allowance are loose and applicants are not closely scrutinized. The authorities often approve applications simply to keep a good public image, so it is easy to take advantage of the program.
Since the monthly allowance has increased to NT$7,000 (US$230) per person, the incentive to falsely file an application has also increased, resulting in a large number of sham farmers. Although Taiwan’s agricultural population stands at 544,000, 675,000 people receive the allowance, not to mention the 1.5 million people under the Farmer Health Insurance Program. The NT$56.36 billion that is being paid out each year is seriously hurting the budgets of related agencies and is unjust.
Many farmers also receive government subsidies for fallow land, thus wasting not only social welfare funds, but also farmland. Some farmers even apply for low-interest rate government loans available exclusively for farmers. These problems may undermine the foundation of the agricultural sector if the government does not carry out far-reaching reform.
The problem is the loose process for obtaining farmer status and the lack of review after this status is granted. To resolve the issue, the agencies in charge should immediately apply strict rules to qualify for an allowance, such as increasing the required number of years of insurance payments.
Meanwhile, local governments should carry out regular on-site inspections to check whether the recipients really are farmers, and then submit the inspection reports to the central government, which should carry out random checks. These measures should reduce the number of sham farmers and discourage large lots of farmland being divided into small, fallow “farmer insurance plots” of 0.1 hectares.
If a farmer’s status can be clearly established, the government would be able to eliminate fraud and fulfill its good intentions for retired farmers.
The problem with sham farmers highlights the government agencies’ failure to accurately grasp fundamental data regarding agricultural productivity. Although Taiwan sees itself as an advanced agricultural country, it has failed to properly interpret its data. As a consequence, some people are ready to take advantage of the various subsidies: for fishing boat fuel, fallow farmland, import protection, natural disaster insurance as well as government buyouts.
When the government pushes for planned production or faces an imbalance between supply and demand, the lack of accurate information means that it is unable to make correct assessments and offer complementary measures. The warnings have been loud and clear, but the government has not responded. Building a comprehensive database for agricultural production and sales is an urgent task for national agricultural policymakers.