Tue, Nov 18, 2008 - Page 3 News List

KMT legislator says he was threatened by COA

By Flora Wang And Meggie Lu  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus secretary-general Chang Sho-wen (張碩文) yesterday accused the Council of Agriculture (COA) of asking gangsters to threaten him over a proposed freeze of the council’s budget requests.

Legislators have proposed freezing a NT$2 billion (US$60 million) COA annual budget request intended for subsidies to farmers’ associations or agricultural groups.

KMT Legislator Hsiao Ching-tien (蕭景田) said he had found that the COA could decide whom to give the grant to without having to invite public bids and that COA officials or retirees served as board members of 35 of the organizations that had received grants in the past.

Hsiao then proposed that the COA be required to establish a complete set of screening processes for the grants and oblige the council to report the screening mechanism to the legislature before the budget request would continue to be reviewed.

The Legislative Yuan is reviewing the government’s fiscal budget requests for next year and is scheduled to complete the review by the end of the year.

Chang lambasted the council, saying it should have spoken to him or other lawmakers who proposed the freeze or arranged for special reports during legislative meetings to help lawmakers better understand the council’s requests, rather than applying pressure on legislators through “friends.”

“The council asked gangsters to threaten to withdraw election support [for me] if [I] didn’t withdraw my proposal,” Chang said.

“The council should do what a government branch has to do and persuade legislators that the budget would be spent on taking care of the public,” Chang said.

Hsiao, who also said he had been pressured, criticized the council’s actions as “inappropriate,” saying the council should communicate with lawmakers through “normal channels.”

In response, the chief of the council’s accounting department, Shih Hsin-pin (施欣蘋), said: “After reading press reports [of the alleged threats] we found that at least some parts of the news did not represent the truth … It is impossible that the COA would [employ gangsters to pressure legislators].”

“The reports may have stemmed from misunderstandings the council had with some legislators during the meeting … As such the council will strive to improve communication with the legislature,” Shih said.

There are two ways the COA may grant money to an organization — by commission or by subsidy funding, Shih said. While evaluation for the former is subject to Article 15 of the Government Procurement Law (政府採購法), which states that to avoid conflicts of interest the commissioned parties should not be the purchasers, their spouse, or close relatives, the council only observes “COA regulations” when it comes to subsidies, Shih said.

Asked about Chang’s accusation that the COA was “refereeing its own soccer game” and allocating subsidy funding to organizations whose chairs are current or retired employees of the council, Shih said: “The council grants subsidies to organizations according to need and usage of funds … Decisions on the grants have nothing to do with whether a current or retired employee heads the organization or not.”

However, “in response to the legislature’s request,” the COA will develop a new evaluation process for reviewing subsidy applications that will take into consideration who heads the applying organizations, Shih said, adding that a report would be ready within two months.

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