Fri, Oct 20, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Pan-blues promise to let revised arms bill through

GIVE AND TAKE Pan-blue lawmakers made a verbal promise to approve the bill for review, but only after the defense minister pledged to axe the previous plan

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Having blocked the NT$610.8 billion (US$18.4 billion) budget for the purchase of US weapons systems from being put onto the legislative agenda for more than two years, pan-blue lawmakers yesterday made a verbal promise that they would let the revised bill through at next Tuesday's Procedure Committee meeting.

The move came after Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (李傑) yesterday told lawmakers that the initial NT$610.8 billion "special arms procurement bill," which was first sent to the legislature for review on June 8, 2004, would be withdrawn.

Lee made the remarks at a multi-party negotiation session that had been convened by Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) to push through a number of long-stalled bills.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) had said that it would not agree to review the new NT$6.2 billion arms bill unless the government withdrew the initial package.

The new bill was listed as an additional budget item in this year's annual government budget.

Under the new budget bill, the Cabinet earmarked NT$1.6 billion for purchasing P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, NT$3.6 billion for upgrading PAC-2 anti-missile batteries instead of purchasing new PAC-3 anti-missile batteries, NT$200 million for assessing the necessity of submarines, and NT$700 million for building an airstrip on Taiping Island.

It was agreed at yesterday's negotiation session that the government would withdraw the NT$610.8 billion package and that the pan-blue camp would put the reduced budget onto the legislative agenda, Lee said.

The pan-blues made the promise at a "public meeting attended by all five political parties. I hope that they will keep their promise," Lee added.

The pledges will only become official after the caucus whips of all the attending political parties have signed a consensus document, but by press time last night they had yet to do so.

People First Party (PFP) caucus whip Cheng Chin-ling (鄭金玲) said that his party hadn't given way to the demand to review the arms bill at the negotiation session.

"We didn't change our stance on opposing extravagant spending on arms procurement," she said.

Cheng said that while NT$200 million had been earmarked for assessing the necessity of submarines, the assessment would require only NT$11.7 billion.

Cheng cited the government's budget statement, in which the ministry said that NT$11.7 billion would be needed to assess the necessity of submarines from this year until 2008.

"It's unreasonable that we need NT$11.7 billion to decide whether to purchase the submarines. Once NT$11.7 billion has been spent, will we still have the option of saying no to submarines?" Cheng asked.

The legislative speaker said that reviewing the budget would not constitute a guarantee that the weapons would in fact be purchased.

"The PFP might accept the agreement if we make this point clear in the conclusion to the negotiation session," Wang said.

Lawmakers also agreed to review nominations for members of the Control Yuan, should President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) come up with a new list of nominees.

The Control Yuan has been idle since the term of its previous members expired in January last year, and consequent nominations have been blocked by the pan-blue camp.

Pan-blue lawmakers also agreed to bring Chen's nomination of Chen Tsung-ming (陳聰明) as state public prosecutor-general to the legislative agenda. The previous nominee, Hsieh Wen-ding (謝文定), failed to receive the legislature's endorsement in April.

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