President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday said he has instructed the Executive Yuan to study the prospect of raising the monthly subsidy for elderly farmers by NT$1,000 if the legislature fails to enact a national annuity law by July.
The monthly subsidy to elderly farmers is NT$5,000. These farmers first received a monthly subsidy of NT$3,000 when the legislature passed the law in June 1995. The subsidy was increased to NT$4,000 in January 2004 and then to NT$5,000 in January last year.
During a spring walk activity organized by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), some DPP legislators and government officials proposed to Chen that it was again time to increase the monthly subsidy. They also proposed loosening restrictions on the use of farm land and speeding up reconstruction of farming villages.
The government will continue to take care of elderly farmers until a national annuity system for all retirees has been established, Chen said.
Chen made the remarks in Kaohsiung County, where he was inspecting a lychee marketing park.
Legislative caucus whips across party lines yesterday gave their approval to the plan, but a DPP lawmaker said he was considering resigning if the plan is adopted.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislative caucus whip Hsu Shao-ping (徐少萍) said the increase of NT$1,000 is "reasonable" and that the party would support the legislation.
A group of KMT lawmakers set the amendment in motion yesterday, submitting their proposed amendment to the Temporary Statute Regarding the Welfare Pension of Senior Farmers (老年農民福利津貼暫行條例) to the legislature for review.
DPP legislative caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) said the president's proposal didn't come out of nowhere, being one of the plans the government could bring up should the national pension system fail to be implemented in July.
However, DPP Legislator Wang Jung-chang (
Wang, together with several civic groups, recently appealed to the legislature not to increase subsidies for elderly people, elderly farmers and elderly aborigines.
They expressed concern that a plan to increase the three subsidies without new fund resources would edge out money earmarked for underprivileged people.
Taiwan Solidarity Union legislative caucus whip Tseng Tsahn-deng (
"If the plan is adopted, an elderly farmer still gets less than a veteran serviceman whose monthly pension is NT$13,000. The unfair situation needs to be improved," Tseng said.
In response, Cabinet Spokeswoman Chen Mei-ling (
She stressed that the Cabinet was "not out of sync" with the president on the issue, saying that the president's main intention was that "the Executive Yuan do everything possible to promote the draft bill so that it can clear the legislature soon."
She said that after sending the draft bill to the legislature next week, the Cabinet would make every effort to communicate with lawmakers on the matter.
Chien Cheng-shan (錢橙山), Secretary-General of the Taiwan Solidarity Union, however, criticized the plan as a "political ploy."
"We are not against the raise, but the administration must map out a well-thought-out plan rather than churning out a pork-barrel policy before the elections," he said yesterday afternoon at a forum organized by the Taiwan Advocates to discuss the rights and protection system of farmers.
Chien's view was echoed by Ting Wen-yuh (丁文郁), board director of the Agricultural Bank of Taiwan.
"Whenever there is an election, farmers become a pawn of political parties," he said. "The government makes them look like beggars."
Lu Cheng-chun (盧政春), a sociology professor at Soochow University, said the government must institute a comprehensive social insurance system for all farmers rather than merely doling out monthly subsidies to elderly farmers.
Lu proposed that the government pay part of the monthly premium to the farmer's personal account, which will go to the national account. The government will manage the fund to generate more money and allow farmers to withdraw the money from the account if they meet certain requirements.
Additional reporting by Jimmy Chuang
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