Lawmakers slash subsidies

By Shih Hsiu-chuan and Chris Wang  /  Staff reporters

Fri, Nov 02, 2012 - Page 1

Lawmakers yesterday agreed to slash a NT$97.36 million (US$3.3 million) budget allocated to various benefits in response to criticism that the benefits were not backed by law.

As a result, each of the 113 lawmakers will see his or her budget drop by NT$860,000.

The decision was the result of a meeting Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) called with the caucus whips of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), People First Party and the Taiwan Solidarity Union.

KMT Legislator Alex Tsai (蔡正元) said last week that it was wrong for lawmakers to claim nine subsidies amounting to a total of NT$190 million, or NT$1.72 million each, because the subsidies were not enshrined in law.

Following days of debate, lawmakers agreed to reduce the payments and write into the legal system a legal basis for a budget earmarked for the subsidies.

“All caucus whips were of the opinion that there was a legal basis for lawmakers’ salaries and other payments. It was just that the legal basis was not written into law,” Wang told a press conference after the three-hour meeting.

Lawmakers decided to end subsidies for legislative research, highway tolls, hosting events, meals, overtime meal allowances for drivers, birthday vouchers and cellphone purchases. They also eliminated housing allowances on the grounds that lawmakers from counties and cities farther than Hsinchu are eligible for accommodation in government dormitories.

They lowered subsidies for telecommunications fees, stationery and stamps, fuel expenses and overseas trips, while the subsidies for rented housing in constituencies, health examinations and legislative office affairs were left untouched.

Lawmakers also agreed to seek reimbursement for domestic flights, train and high-speed rail trips by submitting their used tickets. Previously, lawmakers were allowed to apply for tickets in advance, which created a loophole that saw tickets not being used by lawmakers.

“Consensus was reached on the need to reform unfair subsidies,” DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) said after a two-hour caucus meeting.

Tsai’s proposal to reduce lawmakers’ subsidies came after DPP Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) disclosed that the annual NT$20.2 billion budget for year-end bonuses for government retirees had no legal basis and sparked heated discussion among the public.

Legislators had to tackle the subsidy issue head-on, Ker said, but it was also important to follow up on other unfair measures, such as the 18 percent preferential interest rate for government retirees.