Editorial: Rethinking countdown parties

Mon, Dec 31, 2012 - Page 8

The nation is counting down to the new year with all kinds of celebrations today, with cities and counties lavishing money on New Year’s Eve countdown parties or firework shows, or both, amid talk about the bad economy and austerity. The New Year’s Eve countdown party in Taipei, for example, has a budget of NT$8 million (US$274,500) this year. Taipei’s Department of Information and Tourism tried to increase the budget to NT$15 million for next year’s countdown party, but failed after the city council turned down the proposal.

The ambitious budget proposal was at odds with the city government’s previous outcry against the Executive Yuan’s new policy of lowering the debt ceiling for most local governments, when it said the budget cut would hurt the city’s finances. Although they are complaining about financial difficulties, local governments are competing to throw more money and manpower at New Year’s Eve galas.

Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) joined Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) and many other local government heads in dismissing Minister of Finance Chang Sheng-ford’s (張盛和) suggestion that local cities should cancel the costly New Year Eve’s activities and firework shows, and use their budgets more carefully. They said that the galas attract huge crowds and boost the local economy, so the money is well spent. Hau further insisted that the annual event has enhanced Taipei’s international reputation.

Rather than scaling down the countdown party, the city will continue to hold the party in grand style to meet public expectations.

The Taipei mayor was not wrong about the international fame Taipei enjoys due to the event. Thanks to the Taipei 101 firework shows, Taipei’s countdown event was selected by CNN as one of the 10 best places in the world to “see in the new year in style.” The countdown party and the 101 fireworks show have become a signature new year celebration in Taiwan.

The annual event in Taipei was initiated by former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) when he served as Taipei mayor, and the city government has since expanded the event, which attracts huge crowds every year. In order to impress these crowds, the government has spent more money every year for the countdown party and firework displays.

The budget for the event during President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) term as Taipei mayor was about NT$2 million. The Hau city administration increased the budget annually, reaching NT$8 million this year. This excludes the NT$30 million spent on the Taipei 101 fireworks show, which is under private sponsorship, and the additional production costs of the countdown party, which add up to more than NT$30 million, according to the organizer of the event, TVBS.

Besides the nation’s capital, 14 cities and counties have also organized countdown parties to celebrate the new year. According to information from the Ministry of Finance, the Hualien County Government budgeted NT$13 million for its countdown party, while Greater Kaohsiung spent NT$9 million.

While the budgets for the countdown parties in different cities vary, the events are similar: Every city competes to get pop stars and top performers for its lineup. While there is nothing wrong with ushering in the new year with countdown celebrations and building a festive spirit, when almost all the performers featured are old faces, the events are much the same from year to year and the venues are filled with tonnes of garbage, perhapse it is time to think about what is left after the dazzling fireworks shows.

If canceling countdown parties and asking people not to watch the fireworks shows is too extreme, local governments should try to be innovative about the new year celebrations and not rush to expand the scale of the events for the sake of competition. After all, fireworks are not the only option for new year celebrations, and New Year’s Eve countdown parties can be more than concerts filled with pop stars.