Mon, Jan 09, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Showdown looms over arms budget

CONFRONTATION The long-stalled arms purchase will again become the focus on the legislature floor this week as both camps attempt to push their favored bills

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

The opposition and ruling parties will confront each other over arms procurement today, as lawmakers have until Friday to make progress on the deal before the current legislative session ends.

A legislative showdown on the arms budget may be inevitable if both pan-blue and pan-green camps fail to reach a consensus over the issue before the legislature breaks for its winter recess.

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) is scheduled to call another round of cross-party negotiations today to discuss this year's government budget.

Today also marks the beginning of the second phase of cross-party talks over the government budget, where party negotiators will bargain over items that they could not agree on during the first phase of negotiations. This includes the long-delayed arms procurement budget.

The legislature's Committee of National Defense has proposed to erase NT$10.9 billion (US$338 million) of this year's regular budget that has been earmarked for the purchase of Patriot missile batteries.

Opposition lawmakers have also cut a proposed NT$272.62 million outlay prepared for the arms procurement package from the Ministry of National Defense's budget plan for this year, saying it is not necessary since the purchase of the package is not yet confirmed.

The original NT$480 billion special arms procurement bill sought to purchase three PAC-3 Patriot anti-missile batteries, 12 P-3C maritime-patrol aircraft and eight diesel-electric submarines from the US.

At the request of opposition parties, the Executive Yuan removed a NT$133 billion outlay that was originally earmarked for Patriot batteries over the next 15 years from the proposal, and included them in the defense ministry's annual budget instead, lowering the total amount of the special budget from NT$480 billion to around NT$350 million.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus whip William Lai (賴清德) said yesterday that his caucus is not averse to putting the matter to a vote.

"The pan-blue camp may eventually get its wish, but we will also get to make clear our stance on the matter," Lai said.

Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) caucus whip Mark Ho (何敏豪) threw his backing behind Lai, saying that his caucus' support for the arms procurement package remains unchanged.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus whip Pan Wei-kang (潘維剛) yesterday called on all parties to respect the proposals made by the defense committee. As for whether the matter will lead to a showdown, Pan said that it would hinge on today's cross-party talks.

People First Party (PFP) caucus whip Hwang Yih-jiau (黃義交) reiterated that his caucus' position on the matter is clear. They will not support the plan unless the three items are paid for in the regular budget.

In addition to the arms budget, the legislative caucuses each have different bills and laws they would like to take care of before the session ends.

High on the DPP's agenda is a flood control bill, a bill pertaining to the structure of a labor pension fund supervisory board, amendments to the Public Officials Election and Recall Law (公職人員選舉罷免法), revisions to the Organic Law of the Executive Yuan (行政院組織法) and other revisions to government restructuring bills.

The TSU caucus said that they hope to see the party asset bill pass into law this legislative session so that the administration can legally tackle the KMT's dubiously gained party assets.

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