Virus Outbreak: Premier approves NT$60bn relief plan

BOOSTING SALES::One measure involves coupons that would be redeemable at night markets, while the Council of Agriculture is to redouble efforts to increase exports

By Sean Lin  /  Staff reporter

Fri, Feb 14, 2020 - Page 1

Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) yesterday approved relief measures totaling at least NT$60 billion (US$2 billion) for sectors affected by an outbreak of COVID-19 in China, including coupons that can be used at night markets and shopping districts.

Relief funds would come in two forms: appropriation from existing budgets of agencies concerned with relief efforts and a planned special budget, which would have a ceiling of NT$60 billion, Executive Yuan spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka said.

The Disaster Prevention and Protection Act (災害防救法) stipulates that government agencies at all levels should appropriate existing budgets to cover more urgent needs for disaster relief, she said, adding that relief funds allocated this way would be disbursed immediately.

The special budget would be sourced from the government’s surplus revenue and funds freed up by the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, she said.

The Executive Yuan is drafting a bill for a special relief act, which would serve as the legal basis for the planning of the special budget, Kolas said, adding that legislation would be finalized and submitted to the Legislative Yuan before the start of the new legislative session.

If passed, the duration of the special act and budget would be one year, she said.

Among the plans approved by Su was a Ministry of Economic Affairs proposal to distribute coupons to people when they shop at night markets, shopping districts, traditional markets and retail stores.

Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Mei-hua (王美花) said that the ministry had proposed allocating NT$2 billion of the proposed special budget for the coupons, but the actual sum would be decided after assessing relief plans proposed by other agencies.

A timetable for the issuance of the coupons has not been set, as that would depend on the Central Epidemic Command Center determining when would be suitable for people to go out shopping, she said.

Asked how the coupons would differ from NT$3,600 consumer vouchers given to people in 2009 by the administration of then-president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Wang said that discounts, rather than face value, would be ascribed to the coupons, meaning that they can only be used when the total value of merchandise purchased reaches a certain sum.

The coupons, along with loans, subsidized loans and loan guarantees planned by the ministry for the relief efforts, would make up NT$16 billion of the proposed special budget, she said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications proposed a relief plan totaling NT$50 billion, including NT$20 billion in aid for the transportation and tourism industries, which is to be covered by the special budget, and a NT$30 billion tourism upgrade and reinvention plan, which is to be proposed under the next phase of the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program, Deputy Minister of Transportation and Communications Huang Yu-lin (黃玉霖) said.

Regarding economic losses suffered by the agricultural and fisheries sectors amid diminishing exports to China and reduced sales due to the postponed start of the next academic semester because of the outbreak, the military would increase its procurement of local produce, while the Council of Agriculture would redouble efforts to market seafood and fruit to Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia until late April to make up for the shortfall in exports, council Department of Planning Director-General Tsai Sheng-fu (蔡昇甫) said.

The council has proposed allocating NT$6.8 billion from the special budget to cover eight preferential interest rates for fishers who need to take out loans or extend debt repayment periods, he said.