EDITORIAL: Pension reforms are only a first step

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 - Page 8

Finally bowing to the public outcry, Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) on Tuesday announced a proposal to limit the recipients of the year-end bonuses for retired public-sector employees to retirees or the families of deceased retirees who receive a monthly pension of less than NT$20,000 and retirees who were killed, injured or disabled in wars or on military exercises.

While it deserves a pat on the back for being responsive to public grievance over the issue of extra allowances for government-sector pensioners, the government under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) must not sit back in complacency and think that it has done an adequate job of quelling public disquiet and addressing social injustice. There remain many more instances of improper spending that the government should deal with. For instance, the 18 percent preferential interest rate on savings for military personnel, civil servants and teachers; the cash prize for retired public-sector employees every Lunar New Year holiday, Dragon Boat Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival and the practice that retired government-sector pensioners can have their pension adjusted in line with salary raises for serving civil servants, public-school teachers and military personnel.

Since all these practices have no legal basis, but exist in accordance with guidelines issued by the Cabinet, how are these extra payouts worthy of Ma’s pledge to pursue social justice that he made in his inaugural speech earlier this year?

How can Ma claim that his government aims to ensure fairness and social justice when one group in the country enjoys the privilege of an 18 percent preferential interest rate on savings while everyone else receives a mere 1.5 percent, with billions of taxpayers’ dollars being spent by the government to finance such a preferential interest rate?

Oblivious to the sense of unfairness and deprivation among the general public, Minister of Civil Service Chang Che-shen (張哲琛) added insult to injury by recently suggesting that critics of the retirement bonus practices were “green with envy” and chiding the critics for “vilifying civil servants” and creating a divide between ordinary people and public servants.

While it is pathetic enough to note how distanced government officials could be from the sense of unfairness felt among members of the general public, it is even more despicable to note the sort of twisted attitude government officials harbor by going as far as accusing those who object of being inspired by jealousy and of creating a social divide.

In case Chang and those of a similar mind in the Ma government have not noticed, it is the government’s very own poor practices that are fueling public fury and ruining the image of the nation’s public servants in the eyes of the general public.

Ma has pledged to leave a legacy in his second term. As far as ordinary Taiwanese are concerned, now is his chance.

If Ma could truly undertake a series of reforms that squarely address the various unfair practices that have taken place over the past four decades, then he would not only leave a great mark on the nation’s history of having successfully addressed an issue of social injustice, but he would also help the nation’s struggling finances —booked and unbooked debt so far total NT$4.9 trillion (US$160 billion).

Equally importantly, he would clear the name and restore the tarnished image of the nation’s public servants, which have been stained by the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) selfish manipulations, making them their solid supporters come election time.