Flying on Air Force VIP transport aircraft could be cheaper than taking a bus if a new draft proposal by the Ministry of National Defense (MND) came into effect.
When President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) flies to a political event, his campaign reimburses the government only a fraction of what it costs to operate the aircraft, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators said yesterday.
Now the ministry has proposed that non-government personnel traveling with the president and other senior government officials pay NT$337 per passenger for a 300km trip between Taipei’s Songshan Airport and Kaohsiung’s Siaogang International Airport.
A similar trip on a bus would cost about NT$520, a train NT$845 and a seat on a commercial aircraft NT$1,400.
Such rock-bottom prices mean that Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) campaigning events would be subsidized by taxpayers, the DPP legislators said.
“Where is the separation between the government and the KMT?” DPP Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) asked.
“It’s a case where essentially our taxpayer dollars are going into private pockets … we want the government to prevent non-government personnel from using these planes,” Tsai said, adding that most of these personnel were KMT officials traveling to campaign events.
Officials from the ministry and DPP lawmakers said the proposed fees were the result of a misunderstanding after the DPP caucus asked the ministry in December to ensure that ticket prices for travel on Air Force VIP airplanes were in line with rising fuel costs.
In a report recently submitted to the Presidential Office for approval, the ministry said that based on current fuel costs, the price per non-government personnel on the planes should be revised to NT$337.
The proposal was later dismissed by the office after officials said the lowered price “did not fulfill society’s expectations.”
“The [MND] deliberately distorted our requests,” Tsai said.
In a press conference yesterday, the ministry said the fees were only a suggestion that would not be officially used.
“After we drew up the formula, we found that if we used it we would not fulfill public expectations, so it did not make its way into the final proposal,” ministry spokesman Yu Sy-tue (虞思祖) said.
Fees for non-government personnel traveling on VIP aircraft are based on the average prices for domestic economy class tickets.
This was not the first time the president’s use of the VIP planes was criticized.
The opposition panned Ma last year after Air Force planes were frequently used by the president and members of his entourage in campaign stops for local KMT candidates during local elections.
While the president uses a specially modified Boeing 737 for trips abroad, the Air Force maintains three aging Fokker F50s for use by officials on domestic business.
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