Ma closing the door to pension discussion

By Teng Hon-yuan 鄧鴻源  / 

Wed, Dec 05, 2012 - Page 8

Having turned down the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) proposal to hold a national affairs conference, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has invited Premier Sean Chen (陳冲), Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and Examination Yuan President John Kuan (關中) to discuss plans to reform the nation’s pension systems.

Ma wants these top officials to play a guiding role, but he might as well ask a ghost for a prescription, because if they had any idea about how to fix the problem, they would have done so long ago. Why would they wait until now?

The DPP, following a joint initiative by Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and former chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), strongly supports the idea of holding a national affairs conference to work out reforms to the pension annuity system. Instituting such reforms would be in keeping with generational justice.

However, Ma does not want to go down that path and would rather hand the issue over to his muddle-headed government team. Unfortunately, there is not much chance that they will come up with any meaningful reform.

Ma and his team have been in office for more than four years. In addition to raising the income replacement ratio for civil servants’ pensions, which had been cut during the tenure of Ma’s predecessor, former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), the Ma administration has raised the salaries and benefits of select social groups. In contrast, the wages and salaries of people working in the private sector have not gone up at all — in fact, they have fallen.

Businesses have gone downhill and the stock market is chronically depressed. However, that has not stopped the savings of plenty of retired senior officials belonging to Ma’s Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), and those of Ma and his wife, Chow Mei-ching (周美青), from growing continually as the years go by. Social conditions have become so miserable that it feels as though we have gone back to the bad old days when the KMT government under Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) first took over Taiwan.

Besides, what can the Cabinet, the Legislative Yuan and the Examination Yuan teach anyone about efficiency? Everyone knows how inefficient they are.

The Cabinet cannot even work out what to do about the year-end bonuses given to retired civil servants, public-school teachers and military personnel, never mind figuring out reforms to the pension annuity system. Lawmakers and other people working for the Legislative Yuan have long been accustomed to enriching themselves through influence-peddling. The legislature is hardly fit to reform itself, never mind anything else.

Kuan served as a KMT party official for 12 years. Why should he be able to include that time in the calculation of his years of government service? How could Kuan have the nerve to say that he “only” gets an extra NT$20,000 a month by virtue of the preferential 18 percent interest payment that he and other state employees get on their pension funds. Besides Kuan, the Examination Yuan has a heap of officials who are paid high salaries and enjoy excellent benefits, although nobody is sure what they do. Surely the Examination Yuan is itself in need of reform.

Considering the state of the Cabinet, the legislature and the Examination Yuan, what results are likely to come from Ma’s invitation to the premier, the legislative speaker and the Examination Yuan president to discuss pension reforms? Not a great deal, probably.

Teng Hon-yuan is an associate professor at Aletheia University.

Translated by Julian Clegg