A “national debt clock” unveiled by the Ministry of Finance in Taipei yesterday quickly ran into opposition from Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers who said it underestimates the true size of the nation’s debt by NT$15 trillion (US$497.15 billion).
The figure, mounted on a running display at the ministry’s headquarters, was apparently modeled after the prominent US National Debt Clock in New York City. The ministry said that the clock was installed to remind other government agencies to crack down on waste.
The display, which is to be updated on the seventh day every month, shows that as of Tuesday last week, the central government owed about NT$4.32 trillion in debt. The figure roughly translates into NT$197,000 per person.
The figure accounts for about 32 percent of Taiwan’s GDP, with a ceiling pegged at 40 percent. Senior officials insist the sum is relatively low compared with other East Asian countries.
“Not only are we still within regulations, but we are still at a reasonable range compared with other countries,” Deputy Minister of Finance William Tseng (曾銘宗) said after being questioned about the new clock.
However, DPP lawmakers said that the figure, which only includes the amount of debt held by the central government, fails to include other forms of public debt, including unfunded hidden liabilities and obligations from local governments.
The difference is about NT$15 trillion, DPP lawmakers said, calling the difference “staggering.”
“The new national debt clock ... doesn’t show the true extent of our national debt,” DPP Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) said.
Calculations by DPP lawmakers showed that every Taiwanese owed about NT$900,000 on average.
They said other unfunded liabilities included public and military retirement pensions, national health and labor insurance programs, and road subsidies.
Economists say the proportion of debt will continue to increase amid growing expenditures, government officials say increased tax revenues will lessen the impact.
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