Thu, Aug 25, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Cabinet to revise special arms bill

CHANGING TACTICS In an effort to make progress on the stymied special arms procurement budget, Frank Hsieh said the PAC-3s will be put in the annual budget

BY JIMMY CHUANG AND KO SHU-LING  /  STAFF REPORTERS

The Executive Yuan yesterday announced its decision to withdraw the NT$480 billion (US$15 billion) special arms procurement draft bill, which has been bogged down in the Legislative Yuan for the last two sessions because of opposition from lawmakers of the pan-blue alliance.

Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) said he will remove the PAC-3 Patriot missile batteries from the proposal, and include them in the Ministry of National Defense's (MND) annual budget instead, which will decrease the total amount of the special budget from NT$480 billion to around NT$350 million. The premier hopes that the new proposal will not be opposed by lawmakers again, and will be approved as soon as possible.

The country's biggest-ever weapons procurement plan focuses on three items -- three PAC-3 Patriot anti-missile batteries -- a high/medium altitude advanced surface-to-air guided missile air defense system -- 12 P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft and eight diesel-electric submarines.

"In addition to seeking support in the legislature, we need to help ourselves, as well. There is a problem that is preventing the proposal from being approved but there is no holiday for national security," Cabinet Spokesman Cho Jung-tai (卓榮泰) said.

Cho spoke on behalf of Hsieh during a press conference after the weekly Cabinet meeting yesterday morning, after the Executive Yuan decided to make the budget change. Cho confirmed that the current NT$480 billion proposal was withdrawn and dropped yesterday, and the MND is expected to submit a new proposal sometime next week.

Initially, Cho simply said that the proposal would be amended and "parts of it" would be taken out. When asked which part of the proposal will be taken out, Cho replied "It will be what you think -- the PAC-3 budget will be taken out."

In the meantime, MND Spokesman Rear Admiral Liou Chih-chien (劉志堅) also confirmed the withdrawal of the proposal and said that the MND will submit a new proposal next week. But he would not confirm whether ministry officials have taken the PAC-3 purchase plan out of the new proposal.

The special arms purchase budget proposal has been pending in the legislature for more than one year. The original proposal was NT$610.8 billion, but the proposal has been stymied by pan-blue lawmakers, who insist that Taiwan should be allowed to build its own submarines, and say that the price of the budget is too expensive.

In February this year, the MND decreased the total from NT$610.8 billion to NT$480 billion, after they took out the amount included to allow for bargaining.

Meanwhile, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) yesterday acknowledged the Cabinet's effort to revise the stymied arms procurement plan but warned that the government's concession does not guarantee the smooth passage of the controversial package.

"I respect the goodwill gesture expressed by the Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] government and it is time to address the issue," Wang said. "However, it is hard to say whether the opposition parties will accept the government's revised bill, because nothing is certain until all caucuses sit down and talk about it."

Responding to comments made by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) that he will let the legislature deal with the matter, Wang said he will respect the decision of the KMT caucus and as the head of the legislature he will stay away from the party caucus' decision-making process and remain politically neutral.

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