Five years after public welfare lottery surpluses were given to local governments to use for social welfare, the Taipei City Government held its first public hearing on how to use the funds yesterday.
Civic groups slammed city officials for appropriating the lottery money to bridge the gaps in the city's shrinking municipal budget.
"The city government has been putting the lottery surpluses into its own pocket, and avoiding budget review from the city council by listing the revenue as special fund aside from the annual budget," said Wu Yu-chin (吳玉琴), secretary-general of the League of Welfare Improvement for Older People.
The Taipei City Government established a Taipei Public Welfare Lottery Surplus Distribution Fund in 2001 to manage the money it got from the surpluses. The fund regulations stipulated that the money, which is managed by the city's Social Welfare Department, should be used "only for disaster-relief efforts and social welfare subsidies."
Since the lottery surpluses were first allocated to local governments in 2001, Taipei has received more than NT$6 billion.
Dozen's of civic groups showed up for yesterday's meeting wanting to know how the money has been spent so far and offering advice on managing the funds.
Eva Teng (滕西華), general secretary of Taipei Social Welfare Alliance, said that Taipei County, Taoyuan County and Taichung have established lottery-fund management committees to oversee their share of the lottery money. Taipei City, however, has not given social groups the right to oversee its fund's budget or management.
"The biggest problem with Taipei's fund is the lack of an efficient review system. The Social Welfare Committee doesn't have the right to review the fund and therefore is a joke," said Teng, who is a member of the committee.
Wang Shun-ming (王順民), a social welfare professor at Chinese Culture University, lashed out at the government for appropriating the lottery surplus for its municipal budget because such a funding source is "unstable."
"A deliberate and sustainable social welfare system is what minority groups need. Depending on lottery revenues to boost the social welfare program and relying on such unstable money to make up for municipal deficits will only make the problem worse," he said.
Many of those at the meeting demanded the city government set up a special committee to oversee the fund's management and the allocation of its budget. They said half of the committee's members should be drawn from civic groups.
Social Welfare Department Director Hsueh Cheng-tai (薛承泰) acknowledged that the city has used NT$1.2 billion from the fund to pay subsidies to the disabled and provide healthcare subsidies for the elderly.
"I agree that although the money has been used for welfare purposes, it may not have gone to those who need help the most. We are willing to discuss the issue with all welfare groups to come up with a better plan," he said.
According to the regulations governing the lottery surpluses -- which accounts for some 26 percent of lottery revenue -- 50 percent should be used for social welfare and charitable use; 45 percent is a reserve for a national annuity plan and 5 percent goes toward national healthcare.
Of the surplus set aside for social welfare and charitable use, 15 percent is divided equally among all local governments. The rest of the money is dispersed to local governments according to the ratio between a city's population and its lottery sales.