Amid rising discontent among government retirees over a Cabinet decision to cut their year-end pension benefits, Premier Sean Chen yesterday said he was open to suggestions on the matter, sparking speculation that the policy might be reversed.
Approached by reporters for a comment outside the legislature, Chen said he was “happy to listen to all suggestions” because the rule regarding distribution of the benefit, handed out ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, “has not yet been drawn up.”
On Thursday, several members of a nationwide association of government retirees complained to Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers about the benefit cut and demanded that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) step forward to reverse the decision.
About a quarter of KMT lawmakers, led by Legislator Sun Ta-chien (孫大千), are preparing a motion that the budget allocated to the Lunar New Year benefit not be cut.
A budget of NT$20.2 billion (US$697 million) earmarked to benefit 445,708 retirees from the military, the government, public schools and state-owned enterprises who have opted to receive retirement benefits in monthly installments instead of one lump sum was included in a draft budget statement for next year, pending legislative review.
After the budget was criticized as being unfair to non-government retirees, Chen announced on Oct. 23 plans to reduce the number of beneficiaries, limiting them to two groups of people — retirees or the family of deceased retirees who receive a monthly pension of less than NT$20,000 and families of retirees who were killed, injured or disabled in wars or on military exercises.
That would slash the budget to a 19th its original size and the number of recipients to about 40,000.
The decision has not been finalized because the Cabinet draws up the rules regulating the distribution of the Lunar New Year benefit only after the budget for that year is approved by the legislature, which will be at the end of this year or early next year.
During a question-and-answer session on the legislative floor, Democratic Progressive Party legislators Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) and Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) asked Chen to clarify whether he has backed down on the proposed change.
Chen said he has not changed his mind, but he was receptive to suggestions about the issue because Taiwan is a country that has freedom of speech.
Chen said he would stick to his decision unless there were compelling counterarguments and the concerns raised had not been considered when he decided to cut the benefits.