Thu, Jan 20, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Ministry plans cheaper arms budget

APPROVAL Minister of National Defense Lee Jye said the budget will be adjusted downward in the hope of gaining the next legislature's approval

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

PHOTO: TAIPEI TIMES

After the Legislative Yuan's Procedure Committee prevented the NT$610.8 billion (US$19.2 billion) arms procurement plan from being debated by the current legislature, which dissolves tomorrow, the Ministry of Defense said that it plans to propose a less expensive budget to the next legislature.

"We'll adjust the budget downward, taking into account the fluctuating currency rate and the expenses of the eight submarines the government wished to build domestically," Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (李傑) told a press conference at the Executive Yuan yesterday.

Included in the procurement plan are eight diesel-electric submarines, six Patriot-III anti-missile batteries and a squadron of 12 anti-submarine aircraft from the US.

Under the government's plan, the state-run China Shipbuilding Corp would send technicians overseas to observe construction of the first two submarines to learn about the design, materials, production and logistics.

The government hopes the company will then be able to build one-third of the hardware for the third and fourth subs. For the fifth and sixth, the government hopes to see the company build two-thirds of the hardware and then build the last two in their entirety.

While opposition lawmakers had requested that the budget be cut by NT$150 billion or NT$200 billion, Lee said that now was not a good time for him to reveal the exact amount by which the proposed budget had been reduced.

"We hope a lower budget request would win more support from opposition lawmakers. I hope I will be able to visit People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) when he returns home from his overseas trip and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) to solicit their backing for the budget," he said.

Lee began visiting opposition lawmakers last week to garner their support to place the budget plan on the legislative agenda before the Procedure Committee held its last meeting on Tuesday.

Lee yesterday called on opposition lawmakers not to let their political views interfere with the arms procurement plan.

"We feel sorry that the budget failed to be passed by the legislature before the current session ends and are very disappointed at lawmakers mixing politics with the budget," he said.

"Although the public might not feel that their safety has anything to do with the arms procurement plan, it's an undeniable fact that national security concerns everybody," Lee said.

While he has previously said that he would step down if the arms procurement plan failed to obtain legislative approval during the current legislative session, Lee remained tight-lipped about the prospect yesterday.

"I don't have anything to say about this because it's a personal matter. Besides, you'll know for sure when the new premier appoints new Cabinet officials," he said.

When asked about the cancellation of the ministry's weekly press conference, Lee said that this was only a temporary interruption.

"I think both we and the media need to calm down and think about what went wrong and then talk about it before moving on to make any changes," he said, dismissing speculation that the press conference had been cancelled because he was upset about negative media reports about the arms procurement plan.

Meanwhile, Lee and Veterans Affairs Commission Chairman Kao Hua-chu (高華柱) yesterday jointly voiced their support for the draft amendments to the Organic Law of the Executive Yuan (行政院組織法), which sought to merge the two agencies into a single "Defense and Veterans Ministry."

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