Thu, May 01, 2003 - Page 3 News List

SARS epidemic: DPP sees little progress

DEADLOCK AND DISCORD DPP and opposition lawmakers have made little headway in coming up with a single funding bill to contain the spread of the deadly disease

By Fiona Lu  /  STAFF REPORTER

DPP legislators were pessimistic yesterday that a deal could be reached with opposition lawmakers on emergency funding to deal with the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

"Opposition parties have made completing the negotiation a challenge by bringing up other divisive issues at the inter-party negotiations," said DPP Legislator Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁).

After the first of two days of inter-party talks at the legislature to reconcile four versions of the emergency bill, legislators seemed no nearer to agreeing on a single proposal that could pass its second and third reading tomorrow as scheduled.

The DPP said that legislators had failed to discuss any specifics of the bill by the time talks ended yesterday.

Chen said he doubted that the legislature would be able complete its review of the bill tomorrow if legislators failed to reach a consensus in negotiations today.

Legislators initially disagreed on how to define money to be used for medical expenses and easing the impact on businesses of the SARS outbreak, DPP Legislator Lin Chung-cheng (林忠正) said yesterday.

The money can be defined as a "special fund," which would give the government more autonomy over the way the money is spent, or as a "special budget," every item of which would have to be reviewed by the legislature.

Lin said that defining the money as a "special fund" would help the government allocate the money more quickly, but that this plan was facing opposition.

"The opposition parties hesitated to endorse the DPP's proposal of defining the money as a `special fund' because they were concerned that the fund, if set up permanently, could be used for other purposes," Lin told reporters.

"To efficiently contain the epidemic, the relief fund must be available immediately," Lin said. "The money, if given the status of a `special budget,' would require complicated legislative procedures that will lead to a delay in using the money."

Lin suggested that the legislature could initially review only funds to control the epidemic and leave more contentious issues for further discussion.

The negotiations are also supposed to deal with a number of other issues, including a public construction project budget, a draft bill for regulating serious economic crimes, an ad hoc committee to supervise the credit departments of farmers' and fishermen's associations and an arms sale review of the government's purchase of Mirage 2000 fighter planes.

On Tuesday, the Legislative Yuan's Procedure Committee set up an agenda to review all versions of the draft bill to contain SARS. The KMT and PFP have presented one version, and the TSU, the DPP and the Executive Yuan one each.

The parties have yet to decide even how much should be spent on controlling the disease. The TSU's proposal of NT$100 billion is double the NT$50 billion of the other proposals.

The DPP and pan-blue camp also disagree over how the money should be raised.

Opposition lawmakers want some of the money to be diverted from other areas of the government's general budget and the so-called "secondary fund," which is used to deal with disasters. The rest would come from an additional NT$25 billion budget.

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