Three years ago, then-presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) stayed at farmers’ homes as part of his campaign to gain their support. Three years later, whether his administration has genuinely assisted farmers can be assessed in the central government’s budget.
The government’s budget for this fiscal year exceeds NT$1.7 trillion (US$59 billion), but in terms of expenditures by sector, agriculture, with NT$60 billion — less than 3.3 percent of the total budget — is getting a smaller slice of the pie than it has had in 12 years.
Spending on agriculture has dropped for the past three years and currently accounts for about half of what was spent in 2005 (or 6.8 percent of the fiscal budget that year).
Spending on pensions, meanwhile, now stands at more than NT$135 billion, representing 7.6 percent of the total budget.
The amount spent on pensions is 1.3 times that for agriculture, the budget report shows.
Looked at in terms of expenditure by organizations, the Council of Agriculture’s budget for last year and the previous year was NT$106.4 billion and NT$107.7 billion respectively, while this year it stands at NT$95.6 billion.
The council’s limited funding is primarily distributed among 740,000 agricultural households (about 3 million farmers), while NT$44.5 billion is given in subsidies to farmers above the age of 65 at a monthly rate of NT$6,000.
The uneven distribution is not only predicated on different ethnicities and organizations, but is also apparent in the internal budgeting for the council.
The council’s spending on personnel has reached NT$7.6 billion, or about 10 percent of its total budget, excluding retired personnel and engineers’ holiday benefits.
The total number of employees and hired staff at the council has reached 8,274, with an average annual salary of NT$924,000.
However, spending on personnel for 15 research institutes and agricultural improvement stations takes up half of total expenses and more than half of the total spending on personnel when the expenses associated with the improvement station in Greater Tainan is included.
Executive fees and hardware maintenance costs leave very little money for seed growing, research and agricultural product improvement, the report showed.
The council’s subsidies this year are about NT$17.5 billion, while donations are expected to account for NT$55.5 billion, leaving only NT$10 billion after subsidies to elderly farmers are disbursed.
Taiwan Agricultural Rights Association chairman Wu Chiu-ku (吳秋穀) said the council should publicize receipts for donations and subsidies or risk allegations that the subsidies are all going to pan-blue cities and counties and donations are going to farmers’ and fishermen associations to garner votes for next year’s presidential and legislative elections.
“What is the basis for subsidies and donations, and who actually benefits from them? This is a -matter that should be more transparent,” Wu said.
As money from farm village revival funds starts being distributed, if the accounting is not done properly, the future of Taiwan’s farming villages and agricultural sector will be very bleak, Wu said.
The farm villages revival fund, which will distribute NT$150 billion to farming and fishing villages nationwide over 10 years, is regulated by the Farm Villages Revival Act (農村再生條例), which was enacted with the purpose of reviving 4,000 farming and fishing villages.