Sat, Jun 16, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Legislature finally passes US arms budget

SIX-YEAR SAGA The legislature yesterday approved a reduced NT$25.7 billion arms procurement package, although a NT$6.2 billion supplementary budget remains stalled

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER

The long-stalled budget for the partial funding of a US arms procurement deal passed the legislature yesterday, about six years after the weapons sale was approved by the Bush administration in April 2001.

The funding was sourced from the defense ministry's annual budget included in the Cabinet's total budget request for the current fiscal year, which also cleared the legislature yesterday.

On the last day before the legislature adjourned for its summer recess yesterday, lawmakers finally finished their review of the central government's budget bill, more than half a year behind the deadline set by the Budget Act (預算法).

The arms package offered by the US includes 12 P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, eight diesel-electric submarines and six PAC-3 anti-missile batteries.

The government's proposal to buy the three major weapons systems for NT$610.8 billion (US$18.5 billion) was sent to the legislature for review in June 2004 in the form of a special budget, but had been blocked by the pan-blues ever since.

The pan-blue camp argued that the price was too high and insisted that the package had to be included in the annual military budget rather than a special budget.

After a series of revisions, the arms proposal took the form of a NT$6.2 billion supplemental budget for fiscal 2006 and a NT$54.7 billion annual budget item for fiscal 2007.

The NT$6.2 billion supplementary budget is still stalled in the legislature, while the NT$54.7 billion allocation from the annual budget was cut to NT$25.7 billion yesterday.

Part of the budget passed yesterday would fund an upgrade plan for PAC-2 Patriot Missile Batteries and the purchase of P-3C Orion Maritime Patrol Aircraft.

Meanwhile, the budget to assess the feasibility of the submarine purchase was slashed from NT$4.537 billion to NT$200 million, while that for buying F16 C-D fighters was passed but frozen.

The legislature demanded that the defense ministry brief the legislature on the US proposal to sell Taiwan the F16 fighters by the end of October.

The People First Party (PFP) legislative caucus proposed a motion to cut all funding for the three weapons systems, but the motion failed in the absence of support from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

Lawmakers slashed the government's annual revenue budget by NT$24.63 billion from NT$1.51 trillion, and reduced the budget for government expenses by NT$34.41 billion from NT$1.66 trillion.

The budget bill was referred to the legislature last September, but the Cabinet was unable to pass it because of a controversial bill the KMT had proposed to restructure the Central Election Commission (CEC).

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has criticized the KMT for holding up the budget bill in a bid to get the DPP to agree to the KMT's CEC proposal, which would give the pan-blue camp the majority of seats.

The Budget Act states that the legislature should complete its review of the central government budget bill one month before the start of the fiscal year.

The KMT caucus only agreed to decouple the CEC bill from the budget after KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on June 11 made an aboutface and urged the caucus to allow the budget bill to be reviewed ahead of the commission bill.

After failing to have its CEC proposal passed in the current legislative session, the pan-blue camp yesterday voted to pass a resolution to freeze one-quarter of the budget earmarked for the CEC, excluding its personnel costs.

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