In the 2008 presidential election campaign President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) pledged that he would deliver, during his first term, an economic growth rate of more than 6 percent, per capita income of US$30,000 and an unemployment rate of no more than 3 percent, in what became known as his “6-3-3” policy. He also promised during a televised debate that he would have no problem donating half of his salary if he failed to achieve this.
Well, it will soon be six months into the president’s second term, and he still has not achieved that 6-3-3 goal. Another thing he has failed to do is honor the promise to donate half his salary.
There was no response from Ma to public criticism of his broken promise, but Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) said the president had told him that he already donates more than half his salary every year. The Presidential Office later qualified this by saying: “President Ma has been making donations for a long time now, and has donated a total of more than NT$75 million [US$2.6 million] to date.”
Let us look at the first couple’s finances to clear up the issue, and get the truth behind these supposed donations.
The first lady, Chow Mei-ching (周美青) is retired, and has long been known for her charitable work. She has no income, apart from the 13 percent preferential savings interest rate that she receives after having worked for a state-owned bank. Ma makes NT$470,600 a month. After living expenses, income tax, health insurance and government employees’ insurance premiums, the couple still has a joint average income of about NT$480,000.
They seem to have an extraordinary aptitude for managing their finances, and it’s a shame they cannot bring this formidable talent to bear on the country as a whole, because the nation’s economy and finances are not in good shape.
Second, where exactly does the money Ma donates come from? In the past 30 years the couple have put two girls through school in the US and made donations worth NT$75 million. They also own five plots of land, four buildings, seven life insurance policies and have savings of more than NT$77 million. They really are living testaments to Taiwan’s economic miracle.
No one doubts that Ma “has been making donations for a long time now, and has donated a total of more than NT$75 million” in that period. The question is whether the money came from Ma’s personal wealth, or from the discretionary “state affairs fund” or from the special allowance fund for government chiefs.
Third, where exactly does the money Ma donates go? If it goes to disaster relief overseas or within Taiwan then great. However, if it goes to organizations that he set up himself, such as the New Taiwanese Cultural Foundation or the Dwen An Social Welfare Foundation, then it’s nothing but a trick consisting of deftly moving money from one pocket to the next, helping himself while pretending to help others, and, as the saying goes, making sure the muck doesn’t fertilize someone else’s fields.
Finally, donating what amounts to more than half of one’s salary does not equate to actually donating half of one’s salary. State funds are to be used, not donated, unless the NT$40 million Ma receives annually from the state affairs fund should be counted as part of his salary. If, indeed, it is, then Ma’s combined annual income tax return for the past four years should have been more than NT$46 million a year — rather than more than NT$6 million — for which he should have paid NT$16 million in taxes. If he had donated half of his salary every year, that would have meant donating NT$23 million or more. Do his tax receipts and donation records reflect this?
Conversely, if the state affairs fund is not considered part of his annual salary there is no way it should be used for personal donations. The fact that Ma has pretty much spent NT$40 million worth of state affairs fund, less some NT$10,000, has got absolutely nothing to do with donating half of his salary. His promise of giving away half his salary should he fail to deliver on the 6-3-3 plan, then, is just yet another bounced check.
Chang Kuo-tsai is a former deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan Association of University Professors and a retired associate professor of National Hsinchu University of Education.
Translated by Paul Cooper