Thu, Aug 07, 2008 - Page 3 News List

ANALYSIS: Government must tackle excessive spending: analysts

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

The government should take the controversy surrounding Taitung County Commissioner Kuang Li-chen’s (鄺麗貞) latest trip abroad seriously, analysts said, and rethink budgets and regulations for official overseas “inspection tours.”

Kuang has come under fire for not canceling her 13-day trip to Europe late last month as Typhoon Fung-wong approached Taiwan. She apologized to residents of Taitung upon her return on Monday. On Tuesday, prosecutors questioned Kuang for more than four hours about the use of public funds on the trip.

Kuang has made eight inspection trips abroad during her two years and three months in office at a total cost of more than NT$10 million (US$300,000).

The Investigation Bureau and the Control Yuan are looking into the nature of these trips after critics suggested that her frequent forays were inappropriate and may have involved misuse of taxpayers’ money.

After the controversy erupted, it quickly spread to several Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) local government heads, including Hsinchu Mayor Lin Cheng-tze (林政則), Kinmen County Commissioner Lee Chu-feng (李炷烽) and Nantou County Commissioner Lee Chao-ching (李朝卿), all of whom have made more than 10 overseas inspection tours over the last two years.

Shih Cheng-feng (施正鋒), dean of National Dong Hwa University’s College of Indigenous Studies, said frequent trips abroad by Kuang and other government heads were a “deep-rooted convention” among the nation’s officials. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) should seek to tighten regulations and review the budget mechanism for inspection tours and the frequency of such visits, Shih said.

“The foreign inspection tours may be legal, but they are unreasonable. The KMT and the government should not ignore the public’s response to this issue,” Shih said.

Local government heads with the most trips abroad

• Hsinchu Mayor Lin Cheng-tze (林政則), 17 trips

• Kinmen County Commissioner Lee Chu-feng (李炷烽), 12 trips (including six to China)

• Nantou County Commissioner Lee Chao-ching (李朝卿), 11 trips

• Taoyuan County Commissioner Chu Li-lun (朱立倫), 9 trips

• Hualien County Commissioner Hsieh Shen-shan (謝深山), 9 trips

• Pingtung County Commissioner Tsao Chi-hung (曹啟鴻), 9 trips

• Taitung County Commissioner Kuang Li-chen (鄺麗貞), 8 trips*

• Tainan Mayor Hsu Tain-tsair (許添財), 8 trips

• Tainan County Commissioner Su Huan-chih (蘇煥智), 7 trips

• Taipei County Commissioner Chou Hsi-wei (周錫瑋), 7 trips

List includes government heads who assumed office in December 2005. Taipei and Kaohsiung cities are not included.

* Assumed office in Jan. 2006 following a by-election

Sources: local governments and Research, Development and Evaluation Commission of the Executive Yuan

Local government heads, legislators and government officials receive a budget for overseas inspection tours every year. Staff and township heads and other contacts are often invited on the trips, allegedly as a reward for their service, including as vote brokers.

Shih said the foreign tour budget, like the special allowance funds given to government officials, lay in a gray area between public and private use.

Ma’s administration must examine where the money is going if it is serious about solving the problem, Shih said.

Political analyst Wang Kung-yi (王崑義), a professor at National Taiwan Ocean University, said the government should review the regulations for official visits abroad. As the ruling party, the KMT should set an example by restraining its party members from inappropriate spending, Wang said.

Wang urged prosecutors to set a precedent for other cases by probing whether Kuang had pocketed part of the budget.

The case of former Democratic Progressive Party Taipei City councilor Hsu Fu-nan (許富男), who was sentenced to six years in prison last week by Taipei judges for spending NT$1.5 million in public funds on a 2005 trip to Russia, can also serve as a reference, Wang said.

In addition to Kuang, Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) also came under fire last month for leaving the country as the same typhoon approached.

Hu defended his decision when he returned from his trip to the Marshall Islands on Sunday, saying that he was carrying out diplomatic work.

In response to the controversy surrounding Kuang, KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) asked the party’s Taitung branch to look into the matter and send its findings to the Evaluation and Discipline Committee for further investigation.

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