The NT$610.8 billion arms deal with the US is no longer about Taiwan's military needs -- it has become a political football for lawmakers to use as they seek an edge in the December legislative elections.
The astronomical amount the government wants to spend is to purchase three types of weapons: diesel submarines, P-3C maritime patrol aircraft and Patriot anti-missile systems.
While the airplanes and the missiles have not raised much of a fuss, the lawmakers from different camps have been arguing about the subs.
Consequently, the Ministry of National Defense and Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers have conceded that it's possible the budget could be cut by NT$100 billion if the submarines were not assembled here. Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) expressed a similar opinion after he led a group of lawmakers to the US in June to discuss the arms deal.
Wang has also made it clear that before the budget can be approved by the legislature, the statute governing the arms deal has to be passed by the legislature first.
"We can count on the statute being delivered to the related committees for review before the legislative election, since all sides have agreed to that," Wang, also a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) vice chairman, said yesterday.
Wang has repeatedly said as much during the past few weeks. He has also said that the passing the budget would have to wait till after the election.
The ministry sent both the statute and the budget to the legislature at the end of the last legislative session, but the statute is stalled in the Procedure Committee because of strong opposition to it from the pan-blue camp.
The situation got even more complicated as the People First Party (PFP) caucus proposed its own version of the statute two weeks ago, which stipulated that the budget can only prepared within the regular annual budget.
Instead of discussing and debating the arms deal in a professional manner in the National Defense Committee or in the plenary sitting, the lawmakers are trying to reduce the complicated issue into simple black and white soundbites in a bid to attract voter support.
For example, DPP Legislator Lee Wen-chung (李文忠) and PFP Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方), the two on the National Defense Com-mittee who have spoken most frequently on the arms deal, have produced their campaign materials based on their arms-deal platforms.
While Lee outlines the reasons why Taiwan needs the new wea-pons and highlights his efforts to push the deal through in a campaign brochure, Lin is appealing to voters by using "Say no to the NT$610.8 billion arm deal" as his campaign slogan.
But at the same time, questions were raised about the opposition's seriousness in blocking the procurement budget after the National Defense Committee rushed through next year's annual national defense budget -- worth more than NT$ 200 billion -- in just 17 minutes this week.
The smooth passage of that bill was a result of the absence of opposition lawmakers. The meeting was only attended by the commit-tee's chairman for the week, PFP Legislator Nelson Ku (顧崇廉), Lee and DPP Legislator Tsai Chi-fang (蔡啟芳).
Since the annual budget was passed the media have slammed opposition lawmakers for neglecting their duties and questioning their intentions on the arms deal given that they didn't even bother to review the annual budget.