A number of retired military personnel yesterday said they were in favor of hitting the streets to protest against the government’s plan to cut annual year-end payments for retirees as some criticized the government, likening it to an actor in the traditional Sichuan opera, which is known for its flawless mask-changing techniques.
The government is like the traditional Sichuan opera actor that has one face on one moment, and a different one the next, so people do not have trust in the government, the retired military personnel said while attending a meeting of the Central Military Academy’s Main Alumni Committee.
The government appears to be vacillating in its stance regarding the annual year-end payments for retired government employees.
Public outrage mounted recently after it was revealed that the government was spending NT$20 billion (US$683 million) annually to issue year-end “bonuses” equal to 1.5 month’s salary to 423,000 retired military personnel, civil servants and public school teachers.
Under public pressure, Premier Sean Chen (陳?) decided late last month to limit recipients of the payment to specific groups: retirees on monthly pensions of less than NT$20,000 and those forced into retirement by job-related injury, along with dependents of those killed in the line of duty. The policy will be reviewed on a yearly basis, he later added.
On Friday, amid rising discontent among government retirees over the decision to cut their year-end pension benefits, Chen said he was open to suggestions on the matter.
Many present at the meeting yesterday said they had been disappointed by the decision by President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration to suspend the payments, adding that they would not rule out joining a military retiree organization in Taoyuan that has said it would protest, or making their discontent known to Ma during the New Year flag-raising ceremony.
Many said they would be seriously considering whether they would still be voting for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in the next major election.
Former Army General Command Headquarters vice commander-in-chief Chia Fu-yi (賈輔義) said it was acceptable to review benefits for retired civil servants, military personnel and public school teachers in a reasonable manner.
However, the three groups in question felt that they were not respected during the debate, he said, adding: “In a time when heroes aren’t respected, there won’t be any more heroes.”
However, while the retired military personnel were unhappy with the government’s plan to restrict the annual year-end payments, sources familiar with the matter said that aside from the year-end “bonus,” the Ministry of National Defense (MND) has also budgeted a Lunar New Year bonus for ranking military retirees, with lieutenant generals and major generals receiving NT$10,000 (US$341), three-star generals receiving NT$20,000 and four-star generals receiving NT$30,000.
The military retirees are taking a mile from the inch they had been given, the sources said.
In response, the ministry said that it budgeted the fund in line with the practice of giving cash bonuses to civil servants, military personnel and public school teachers every Lunar New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival and Dragon Boat Festival, adding that it would cut the bonuses if the civil servants, military personnel and public school teachers’ funding were slashed.
However, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Hsueh Ling (薛凌) said that not every retired general or military personnel had taken the Lunar New Year gift money offered by the ministry.
In 2010, NT$2.1 million of the money was not claimed by retired generals or military personnel and NT$4.8 million was not claimed last year, Hsueh said.