Tue, Feb 07, 2017 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Time for a currency overhaul

Over the Lunar New Year holiday as well-wishers greeted one another with traditional Lunar New Year’s greetings such as “gong xi fa cai” (“wishing you a financially prosperous year”), Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Gao Jyh-peng (高志鵬) suggested redesigning the nation’s banknotes.

Saying the idea came to him while he was preparing red envelopes, Gao plans in the upcoming legislative session to propose amendments to the Central Bank Act (中央銀行法), which would establish a “national currency design committee” to oversee changes to banknotes.

While some critics have been quick to dismiss the idea, saying it would be a waste of public money and bound to stir up ideological confrontation, there are actually merits, both in terms of practicality and significance, to the proposal.

First, to keep up to date with anti-counterfeiting technology, banknotes and coins must be redesigned to enable more rigorous security features.

Currently, the image of Republic of China founder Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙) is featured on NT$100 bills as well as the NT$50 and NT$10 coins, while that of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) is on the NT$1, NT$5 and NT$10 coins. The most recent update of the NT$100 bills was in July 2001, while the designs of most coins date back to 1981, with the exception of the NT$50 coins that came into circulation in 2002.

Considering that smaller denomination coins were designed more than three decades ago — and even the latest design of the NT$100 bills is 16 years old — the argument that the time is ripe for an overhaul of the nation’s currency is valid — if only to better deter counterfeiting.

Almost 150 new banknotes were put into circulation around the world in 2015, according to the International Bank Note Society.

A redesign of the nation’s banknotes and coins would also allow for a new feature that would better help those with vision impairment. Taking Australia as an example, its government last year unveiled a new design for its A$5 (US$3.83) banknote that included a tactile feature.

With Taiwan often lauded for its robust democracy, and politicians across party lines trumpeting the nation’s democratization, it is time to do away with the outdated idea of encouraging political totems and using political figures on bills.

Instead of having an image of the main culprit behind the 228 Massacre on coins, the government should consider a new design that better depicts the nation’s rich culture and heritage.

That replacing Sun’s and Chiang’s images would incite ideological confrontation is a pseudo-issue argument; proponents of this assertion need to remember that aspects of Taiwan’s unique cultural identity were introduced in a banknote as early as 1961 when the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime incorporated an image of Hualien’s Cingshuei Cliffs (清水斷崖) on the $1 bill.

As times have changed, old practices — especially those relating to the party-state ideology that used to permeate the nation during the KMT’s authoritarian rule — ought to be addressed to keep pace with progress and changes in values. Therefore, doing away with a dictator’s image on the nation’s banknotes and coins should not be considered a divisive act, but rather a move that demonstrates the nation is evolving and that the public as a whole has more progressive values.

After all, would it not be much more meaningful for Taiwanese — and tourists alike — if the designs of the nation’s currency better reflect Taiwan’s achievements in technology, sports, education and conservation?

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