President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Premier Sean Chen yesterday said they were willing to pare down their respective discretionary funds to put an end to partisan squabbling over government spending that they said has shifted attention away from more important economic issues.
In his first stop on his itinerary yesterday morning, Ma announced that he would cut the state affairs fund of NT$40 million (US$1.37 million) by a quarter in next year’s budget statement, pending a review by the legislature.
Ma said he offered to pare down the fund by NT$10 million because he hoped that governing and opposition parties could stop squabbling about unnecessary issues that would lead the nation into a political quagmire and work together on issues concerning boosting the nation’s economy.
At a separate setting, Chen announced he would also cut by a quarter his fund of NT$9 million allocated for job-related affairs at the premier’s discretion in the budget statement.
Chen said the decision was made out of concerns about fiscal constraint and out of sympathy for people suffering economic problems.
Over the past month, heated exchanges over fund related issues have been manipulated to fuel conflict between different classes, generations and occupational groups, Chen said.
“The situation is worrying,” he added.
With the budget cuts, “we hope that we can debate all future issues sensibly and rationally. Taiwan truly cannot afford internal bickering. We should all work together to boost the economy and to lay solid foundations for the future,” he said.
The announcements came after the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) last week proposed that various discretionary allowances available to senior government officials be halved to help the country ride out its economic difficulties.
In response to Ma’s move, DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said in Changhua County that the real issue was why Ma had increased the state affairs fund when he took office in 2008 and how the president had spent the money.
As for Ma’s call for an end to internal friction, Su said there was no internal friction in the nation at present.
“Ma is the president. He appointed the premier and he controls a majority in the legislature. No one is able to block his efforts to revive Taiwan’s economy,” Su said.
During a question-and-answer session in the legislature in Taipei, DPP Legislator Hsueh Ling (薛凌) was not satisfied with a cut of NT$10 million from Ma’s fund.
Hsueh said the fund should be reduced to NT$22.5 million, if a quarter was to be slashed, because the fund stood at NT$30 million when Ma came to office in May 2008.
In response to Hsueh, Chen said that NT$50 million was earmarked for the fund in the first few years of former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) administration, before it was reduced to NT$30 million.
According to the Executive Yuan, the discretionary allowances available to the premier total NT$10.2 million a year.
Other than the budget of NT$9 million, a premier also receives an annual special allowance of NT$1.26 million, capped at NT$105,500 per month.
Meanwhile, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) also announced that, in view of the nation’s struggling economy, all Taipei City Government department heads, including himself, would have their discretionary funds cut by a quarter, which would save almost NT$15 million next year.
Additional reporting by Chris Wang and Chen Hsiao-yi