EDITORIAL: Protestors should retire gracefully

Tue, Nov 13, 2012 - Page 8

At the annual meeting of the Alumni Association of the Central Military Institute and the Academies of the ROC, participants criticized the government for deciding to axe their year-end pension bonuses. Some agitated retired military personnel even went so far as to say that if the bonus were to be altered, then they would rise up in protest. Some veterans’ organizations are now planning to take to the streets on Dec. 25, or to gather in front of the Presidential Office on Jan. 1.

A statement from Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) that the entire system of year-end retirement bonuses lacks a legal basis has also caused a strong reaction from the public.

Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) announced plans to reform the scheme so that only those receiving less than NT$20,000 per month — alongside personnel injured during training or war drills, or the families of those killed in the line of duty — will be eligible. However, faced with a veteran-led backlash, the government’s resolve has weakened and the Cabinet has now changed its tune, saying that it will respect any decision taken by the legislature on the scheme.

Some veterans have asked where Taiwan would be today if there had been no military around to defend it when the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government fled to the country. While this may seem to make sense, Taiwan’s current situation is the result of the joint efforts of all its workers, businesses, military personnel, civil servants and public school teachers, and there is nothing to be gained from debating who has contributed more to the nation.

At the heart of the problem lies the view that if there is no legal basis for the year-end bonus it should be abolished. The same applies to the legislature which would simply need to abolish subsidies for lawmakers which lack a legal basis — or alternatively write them into law. That is how a country operating under the rule of law would handle such matters.

At a time when the nation is experiencing fiscal difficulties, budgets must follow the law, be reasonable and meet the needs of the situation. There cannot be a situation where anyone who complains loudly enough gets exactly what they are demanding.

Military personnel, civil servants and public school teachers who retired prior to the 1980s should be cared for. However, there are not many of them left and most retirees receive an ample monthly stipend of 80 to 90 percent of their former salaries. It is these people — receiving several times what a private sector worker can hope to get — that are hiding behind those early retirees in opposing these changes. Their demands are devoid of any legitimacy and those complaining so loudly also enjoy another bonus also lacking a legal basis: A spring festival relief payment worth anywhere between NT$10,000 and NT$30,000 that should also be reviewed.

At a time when many countries are experiencing fiscal crises and are having to cut government spending, those who refuse to play their part and who treat any discussion of pensions as an attack on their “class” are the ones waging class warfare.

In cutting expenditure the government is bound to make enemies. It should have fair and just standards and principles to handle such pressures to convince the public they are leading the country along the right path.

If the government feels unable to deal with the protests and the pressure exerted by retired government employees and protesting workers alike, it could do what former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) did and call a national affairs conference, where the combined strengths of the ruling and opposition parties were channelled toward political reform.

Former DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), and senior advisor to the president Chao Shou-po (趙守博), have both suggested such a plan.

Following their advice would provide President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) an opportunity to initiate reform and rid himself of an image of incompetence.