Rat-catcher needed for the nation

By Lin Terng-yaw 林騰鷂  / 

Sun, Jan 13, 2013 - Page 8

Late last year, the Ministry of Economic Affairs announced the annual bonuses for employees of state-run companies. The bonuses have been cut from several months’ salary to 1.2 months’ salary per employee.

The entire public service machine, including government agencies, state-owned banks and businesses and public foundations, is making money at the expense of the state. They are worse than profiteering “fat cats”: It is perhaps more fitting to call them “rats” — state-coffer-robber fat rats.

However, what crimes against the coffers are these robber rats guilty of exactly?

First, they are guilty of failing to do what they are being paid to do. Many administrative bodies, for example those responsible for ensuring safe food, clothing, housing and transportation, seem to be incapable of making sure the law is implemented. The market is awash with potentially harmful products, cities are plagued with jerry-built construction, road hogs are rampant, and the fight against pollution has become a mere slogan; all of which is detrimental to the quality of life of the people living in this nation.

It was recently revealed that the salary of the executive director of the Improper Martial Law Period Insurgency and Espionage Convictions Compensation Foundation (戒嚴時期不當叛亂暨匪諜審判案件補償基金會) was higher than that of the minister in charge of the government department — the Ministry of National Defense — that funded its establishment, and that he has only personally looked into three cases since it was established. Then there are the public foundations and research institutions that hoover up hundreds of billions of New Taiwan dollars with precious little to show for it in terms of research results that can actually be applied.

The second issue with the coffer robbers is the extra money they spend on appointing, commissioning, or contracting out their duties to others. According to the Legislative Yuan’s 2011 annual central government audit overall evaluation report, government agencies have been outsourcing their public service duties to public foundations and have failed to follow accounting guidelines for income and expenditure, or pay surplus revenues to the national treasury.

It is also apparent that the heads of these public foundations, set up with financial assistance from the central government, actually make more money than government ministers, resulting in significant losses for the state coffers.

Every year, an incredible NT$800 million (US$27.6 million) or more is spent on contracting work out, if not on jerry-built roads, then on buildings destined to stand empty and become nothing but mosquito breeding grounds, all at the taxpayers’ expense.

In addition, the Council for Labor Affairs estimates that there are approximately 90,000 temporary workers around the nation, of which — according to the Directorate-General of Personnel Administration — more than 10,000 work for central government agencies.

One must also bear in mind that some departments are reporting lower numbers of temporary workers on their books than they actually employ, and this figure does not include those working for local government agencies. The government, then, is the biggest employer of temporary workers in the country. This means that the national coffers are being drained, and the quality of government services is being affected.

The third way these fat rats are gnawing away at the state coffers is through corruption.

First, we had allegations of former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世) accepting bribes. Then, there were the corruption scandals involving senior civil servants, former or current, working in the Water Resources Agency, the National Fire Administration and the Criminal Investigation Bureau. Next, news broke of several presidents of Department of Health-run hospitals receiving kickbacks and of a scandal involving a high-school head and school dinners.

Finally, the Taiwan Railways Administration deputy director-general was allegedly caught with his trousers down spending taxpayers’ money on entertaining in places of dubious repute and accepting bribes, in addition to his involvement in corruption in the railways’ NT$15 billion “Round Taiwan Safety Enhancement Project.”

All of these shenanigans have cost the state coffers dearly.

These, together with the losses accrued by CPC Corp, Taiwan, and Taiwan Power Co (Taipower), have made the coffers bleed to the tune of several hundred billion NT dollars.

There is also a fourth way in which these coffer robbers are plundering the treasury, even after they cease to be civil servants. After their retirement, many senior officials, guilty of either corruption or negligence during their working lives, are taking up positions in state-owned banks, enterprises and foundations, effectively receiving a second salary from the taxpayer.

In addition, the year-end and compensatory bonuses paid to retired public servants — military personnel, public school teachers and civil servants — and the 18 percent or 13 percent preferential interest rate on savings they are eligible for, are also draining the national coffers to the tune of billions of NT dollars every year, contributing to serious financial problems in the future.

The central function of the government is to keep the population safe and secure, and to make sure all of their needs are provided for. However, the government seems to have become a hub of spin, advertising and outsourcing, and it is losing its ability to do its job effectively.

One hopes that a certain self-styled reformer, looking for a historical legacy, will do something over the coming year to instigate a thorough pest-control program in government, and rid it of these fat rats.

Lin Terng-yaw is a retired law professor at Tunghai University.

Translated by Paul Cooper