Sat, Dec 30, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Arms procurement takes a small step

PROGRESS The KMT helped a NT$6.27 billion portion of the arms procurement package to advance to the budgetary committee for consideration, angering the PFP

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Independent Legislator Li Ao holds a sign that reads ``Chen Shui-bian and his cronies are the US' running dogs, Ma Ying-jeou is the the US running dog's running dog'' during the vote on the arms package deal at the legislature in Taipei yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

The legislature voted 162 to 26 yesterday in favor of placing part of a long-stalled arms procurement bill on the legislative agenda, but the passage of the bill remains unclear.

The vote was supported by lawmakers from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the Taiwan Solidarity Union and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which had previously joined the People First Party (PFP) in boycotting the arms procurement bill in the legislature.

"We are disappointed with the KMT. The [arms procurement] is still an extravagant deal. The prices of the items haven't been lowered since the government proposed the purchase. The KMT should tell the public why it has changed its position," PFP Spokesman Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞) said.

KMT Legislative caucus whip Tsai Chin-lung (蔡錦隆) said the bill was acceptable as the government had followed its advice to source the funds for the purchase from the defense ministry's annual budget, rather than creating a special budget.

"Funding the arms procurement from the nation's annual defense budget won't leave the government saddled with a huge debt as the creation of a special budget would have," he said.

The KMT supported a rational arms procurement package consisting of arms that would contribute to national security at a reasonable price, he added.

However, the KMT yesterday opposed a motion proposed by the DPP and the TSU which called for the bill to be referred directly for a second reading.

The motion was defeated 101 to 93, a possible consequence of which is that the bill might be stalled during the four-month phase of cross-party negotiation after it moves out of the joint committee's initial review.

Legislative procedure mandates that a bill that does not enjoy the support of all legislative caucuses can only be tackled on the floor after the four-month negotiation period concludes.

The bill, together with its related budget request, was sent to the legislature for review in June, after the government agreed to an opposition request that the procurement be funded from the defense budget.

The bill calls for NT$6.27 billion (US$192 million) to be used for the initial funding for the purchase of P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, partial funding for upgrading PAC-2 anti-missile batteries and the design of submarines, as well as NT$700 million to build an airstrip on Tai-ping Island (太平島).

Although the bill, the legal basis of the supplemental budget, was placed on the legislative agenda, the supplemental budget proposal was not, thanks in part to opposition from the PFP.

The motion to block the supplemental budget proposal passed without objection as it is too late for the legislature to pass the budget by the end of this year.

In accordance with the legislature's regulations, the supplemental budget proposal for this year will be invalidated should it fail to pass before the year ends.

"[As a result,] the bill might be overhauled and the government needs to send another budget request to the legislature," DPP Legislator Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) said.

Meanwhile, PFP lawmakers told a press conference that they would bring a motion calling for reconsideration of yesterday's vote.

The PFP lawmakers, however, cannot introduce such a motion as they all opposed the vote.

Legislative procedure mandates that a reconsideration motion can only be brought by at least 40 lawmakers who supported the vote in question.

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