Thu, May 29, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Cabinet moves to borrow more to make up shortfall

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Executive Yuan has approved additions to the SARS Prevention and Relief Statute (防治暨紓困暫行條例) that would introduce new fines for people who knowingly spread the disease or conceal their contact history from medical authorities.

At the same time, the Cabinet yesterday moved to make up for the estimated shortfall of NT$100 billion in tax revenues caused by the SARS outbreak and the global economic downturn.

The Cabinet approved the issuing of government bonds and moved to allow the resulting deficit to be exempted from the legal amount that the government can borrow.

Under public-debt rules, the government can borrow up to 15 percent of its annual budget. The government deficit made up 14.99 percent of last year's budget and is projected to make up 17.04 percent of this year's budget.

The new proposals, included in the draft amendments of the SARS prevention act and approved by the Cabinet yesterday, will proceed to the Legislative Yuan for further review and final approval.

The Cabinet hopes the bill will be passed by the Legislature before the end of June, when the current legislative session is scheduled to end.

The Cabinet's bill, described as a temporary measure, is prescribed to be implemented between March 1 and Dec. 31 this year and can be extended, pending the approval of the legislature.

Addressing the press conference held after the weekly closed-door Cabinet-affairs meeting yesterday morning, Cabinet Spokesman Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) said that it is necessary to make the change to the law.

"Since the SARS Prevention and Relief Act went into effect on May 2, certain changes need to be made in accordance with the development of the outbreak," Lin quoted Premier Yu Shyi-kun as saying.

Under the draft, those who distribute rumors or false information about the outbreak -- including members of the media -- would be subject to a jail term of up to three years or a fine of up to NT$500,000.

As the government is set to launch the 10-day nationwide temperature-check campaign starting Sunday, the draft would impose a fine of between NT$1,500 and NT$7,500 on those who refuse to have their temperature taken or wear face masks in designated areas, buildings or transportation system.

Those hoarding medical equipment or supplies and gouging customers on the sale of such items would face a sentence of between one year and seven years in prison and a fine of up to NT$5 million.

The draft ammendment would also impose a jail term of up to three years or a fine of up to NT$500,000 on those who deliberately spread the SARS virus if they are aware of their condition.

Those concealing their contact and medical histories would be subject to a fine of NT$150,000. The fine could increase to NT$500,000 if the concealment of the information led to the infection of other people.

In order to eliminate and avoid any inconsistencies between central and local government efforts, the draft stipulates that local governments should abide by the instructions put forth by the central government. Local governments should also set up anti-SARS teams in the areas under their jurisdiction, the bill says.

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