Lawmakers yesterday suggested increasing housing allowances for diplomats stationed in nine cities abroad where personal safety is a major concern.
The proposal follows a rejection of a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) plan to create additional overseas missions in more than 40 cities by the Executive Yuan due to budgetary constraints.
The matter has attracted widespread attention given the murder of Julia Ou (區美珍), a secretary involved in overseas compatriot affairs serving in the Dominican Republic, whose body was found on April 17. Ou died after returning home late from work to an area that was considered affordable, but unsafe.
According to a resolution adopted by the legislature’s Foreign and National Defense Committee, lawmakers demanded the government allocate more housing allowance to overseas representatives residing in several cities, including Brasilia and Sao Paulo in Brazil, San Salvador in El Salvador, Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic as well as Pretoria and Cape Town in South Africa.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Yang (楊進添) described diplomats serving overseas as “relatively low paid” in contrast with diplomats from comparatively similar Asian nations.
Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics Deputy Minister Luh Dun-jin (鹿篤瑾) said the Executive Yuan has twice rejected proposals presented by the ministry that called for higher housing allowances for overseas staff living in a number of listed trouble hot-spots.
Both Luh and Directorate-General of Personnel Administration Minister Frank Huang (黃富源) were not in favor of the two proposals, which would cost an additional NT$2 million (US$68,000) per month.
Yang told the committee that the housing allowances had not been adjusted across the board since 1995 with the exception of Haiti and Papua New Guinea. He said that since that time, the US dollar has depreciated substantially and consumer prices have risen.
“The result has been that some overseas staffers pay partial rent out of their own pockets or relocate to the outskirts of the city,” Yang said.
Yang said there were about a total of 56 cases involving public events that have happened to the nation’s overseas staffers over the past two years.
Lawmakers were divided on the issue, but finally agreed to green-light an additional NT$300,000 per month.