Organizations representing retired military personnel, civil servants and public school teachers who face having their year-end bonus payments abolished are saying they may initiate recalls of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and legislators over the proposed cuts. The backlash has prompted Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Sun Ta-chien (孫大千) to propose a motion demanding that the budget for these payments, which are given on three annual festivals — Lunar New Year, Dragon Boat Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival — be preserved in full.
Many legislators have added their support to Sun’s motion. This move, which is a slap in the face for these legislators’ own party, has brought debate about this issue back to square one.
In middle of last month, the KMT legislative caucus proposed a review of the payments on the grounds that everyone in Taiwan should work together and make any necessary sacrifices to get through the present economic difficulties. The government has been doling out these payments for years on the basis of executive orders, since they are not regulated by law.
Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) agreed to make adjustments for this year that would cut the budget by NT$18.2 billion (US$629 million). It looked as though the debate over the issue could be set aside for a while. That expectation has been dashed now that a group of pan-blue legislators are attempting to reverse the budget-cut proposal out of their own self-interest. These lawmakers are tossing the principles of fairness, justice and reform aside for the sake of winning votes.
What better illustration could one ask for of the way some politicians pander to the wishes of the public, or a segment of the public, for their own benefit?
Interactions between the KMT and groups representing the military, civil servants and public school teachers shows that together, they form a special alliance of interests. This alliance represents a form of class-collaborationist corporatism encompassing party, state and other forces.
Under a corporatist system, various social classes and interest groups support one another. This is often referred to as a “special electorate structure.” Through the electoral process, the share-out of resources among these groups has been legitimized.
However, while this sharing out of resources may not be illegal, it does not mean that it is completely legal either. This kind of situation can occur when one person holds positions in both party and government structures.
Related issues include the 18 percent preferential interest rate paid out on retirement funds for military personnel, civil servants and public school teachers and the terms and implementation of the Act for Rebuilding Old Quarters for Military Dependents (國軍老舊眷村改建條例).
This all runs contrary to the Constitution’s purpose of upholding equality and is a major drain on the nation’s finances, yet has been allowed to go on for many years. It remains unjust, even if covered by a legal fig leaf in the form of fragmented and one-sided laws and decrees that are not in keeping with transitional justice.
Recently touted reforms to the retirement system for government employees follow a similar pattern, so the impossibility of making thorough reforms to the system is clear.
Running up against the solid wall formed by this alliance of party and state interests, Taiwanese should not expect the alliance to collapse of its own accord, nor that a tide of public opinion will wash it away, as the tears of the legendary Lady Meng Jiang (孟姜女) washed away part of the Great Wall of China.
Only if a way to breach the wall can be found will there be any hope of reforming the system.
Steve Wang is deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan Society.
Translated by Julian Clegg