Sun, Nov 19, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Feature: Scandals expose the lack of a proper mechanism to monitor special funds

By Jimmy Chuang

Staff Reporter

The recent political mudslinging over alleged corruption involving the use of discretionary government funds has exposed a lack of oversight over how public officials spend taxpayer dollars.

In an effort to mollify public outrage over the problem, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) yesterday issued an executive order that, starting Jan. 1, all "special allowance funds" require valid receipts detailing all expenditures.

"We want to avoid any potential for corruption. The `special allowance fund' mechanism must be made legal. This means that we will explain the importance of making it a law as soon as possible," Su said when approached by the press yesterday.

Ever since President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was embroiled in controversy over his use of the discretionary "state affairs fund," and now that Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) usage of his discretionary fund has been called into question, there have been calls to make clear regulations governing the matter, Su said.

Su said he had approved a proposal for the new regulations in October, which will become effective in January.

"We need to figure out whether there is a need for such funds, and what is the best way for us to use the money. This is an issue that concerns 6,500 government heads, who are using special allowance funds," Su said.

According to the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS), about 6,500 government heads, including public school principals, are provided monthly "special allowance funds."

The total amount of taxpayer dollars used for such funds each month is NT$968 million (US$29 million). The amount of a particular fund depends on the rank and position of the government official who receives it.

Under the executive order that established the funds, the money is supposed to be used to pay for expenses incurred in the conduct of public duties.

Until the new rule becomes effective next year, officials can receive their monthly allowance at any time, simply by filling out a "claim form" in order to receive their funds.

In Ma's case, the mayor receives a monthly "special allowance fund" of NT$340,000. Ma's staff wires NT$170,000 of this fund along with his monthly paycheck -- NT$150,000 -- into his bank account each month.

This portion of his discretionary fund does not require independent accounting oversight, but does require the mayor to submit "claim forms" detailing how the funds were spent.

The other NT$170,000 is issued as reimbursements after receipts are submitted to the Ministry of Audit.

Statistics from the Ministry of Audit also outline how 1,001 government officials, who are serving the Cabinet, use their "special allowance funds." From January to June this year, they were entitled to spend NT$180 million in such funds.

Thirty-eight of the officials -- about 4 percent -- did not spend a single dollar of their funds. The rest of the officials spent all of their discretionary budget.

Regarding whether officials had used the money for personal expenses and had then submitted fake receipts to cover their tracks, Ministry of Audit Spokesman Wang Yung-hsing (王永興) said such an act would be "corruption."

"In addition to corruption, people using fake receipts to apply for the money may be charged with forging government documents," Wang said.

"The money is definitely not a part of an official's monthly paycheck. That is why the `special allowance fund' is in a grey area, which is not protected or regulated by any laws," said DGBAS Minister Hsu Jan-yau (許璋瑤).

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