The Legislative Yuan began its extra session yesterday in what has now become a ritual: For the past few years, no legislative session has ended without the need for an additional session.
In addition, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) said that as there were too many outstanding proposals, it has planned not one, but two extra sessions.
While legislative inefficiency occurs in many countries, the “extra session” phenomenon — unquestionably one of the trademarks of Taiwan’s legislature, along with occasional brawls — is a serious concern.
It brings to mind an issue that angers many employers: employees working overtime for no other reason than to receive overtime pay.
According to an estimate made by The Journalist magazine last year, one extra day of sessions costs NT$10.25 million (US$342,300). In other words, the extra two-week session is expected to cost taxpayers NT$143.5 million.
However, it is much more than an issue of money.
Lawmakers are called lawmakers for a reason — they make laws, which is the mandate bestowed upon them by millions of voters across the country.
Unfortunately, legislators have not been doing their job. Too often during sessions, lawmakers spend the time humiliating officials or asking irrelevant questions, knowing that the media — TV crews in particular — eagerly await their soundbites. They provide the “showmanship” that the media want, but that is a topic for another day.
Yet, those who do attend legislative committee meetings are still more commendable than those who do not even show up and believe that making connections in their constituencies is more important for winning elections than legislating.
If the Democratic Progressive Party has to worry about its lawmakers not attending committee meetings, the KMT has even more to worry about.
A lack of effort, along with political differences between parties, is why little was achieved in the regular session and most legislation that was passed has done so as part of package deals after cross-party negotiation.
Over the years, not even changes in the constituency map, the legislature’s structure nor internal regulations have changed this phenomenon.
The recent controversy over an amendment to the Accounting Act (會計法) has highlighted the absurdity and incompetence of lawmakers at an unprecedented level, with closed-door deals and a bizarre omission in the proposal’s text that was supposed to have exempted hundreds of university professors from charges of misusing receipts to claim government reimbursements.
Outraged at the secrecy, the blatant politicking and the sheer stupidity of the omission, the public finally made its voice heard, forcing an Executive Yuan veto and apologies from President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and all political parties.
In some cases, lawmakers do not make enough laws, as was the case in the recent industrial starch food scandal. Government agencies either found that there was no law regulating the matter, or else they had no idea which agency was actually in charge of the function.
If what has happened serves as any warning to legislators, the message is surely loud and clear: Lawmakers should be doing their jobs and not needing two extra sessions in which to do them.