The Taipei City Government has been drawing an increasing amount of money from the city’s emergency-only reserve funds to pay for overseas visits, most of which were not business-related, despite already having an annual budget of more than NT$100 million (US$3 million) in the past three years to subsidize such tours, according to latest findings by the National Audit Office.
The National Audit Office made the discovery during a recent review of the city government’s annual financial report for the last fiscal year.
Comparing the city government’s projected budget for overseas visits in 2010 with previous years, the office said in its latest audit report that the number had drastically increased from NT$82.8 million in 2008 to NT$117 million in 2009, to NT$125.1 million in 2010.
The upward trend is expected to continue through last year, as the number of officials applying for the budget was almost as many as that in 2010.
The office also found that the city government, which has run up a debt of about NT$164.2 billion, has been taking more money — from NT$3.24 million in 2007 to NT$7.86 million in 2010 — from both of its first and secondary reserve funds for expenditures incurred during officials’ “inspection tours.”
The city government also used other resources from its coffers, such as private donations, to pay for the visits, the office said, adding that its budget allocation was “out of place.”
Singling out the city’s Fire Department, Department of Information and Tourism and Department of Civil Affairs, the office said the agencies were responsible for several “inappropriate requests” for permission to draw from the reserve funds.
The office said the aforementioned departments had cited various reasons — such as the original allocation for an approved plan becoming inadequate or additional allocation being required to respond to an unexpected political event — why the needed to take money from the funds to make additional overseas visits, yet the situations were almost identical.
The office also found that most of the supposed business visits were in fact not business-related, a discovery that comes amid widespread accusations leveled at Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin’s (郝龍斌) administration of squandering taxpayers’ money on unnecessary inspection tours.
Pointing out the worst offenders, the office said that non-business related visits made by the Department of Rapid Transit Systems accounted for as much as 84.5 percent of the total number of days it spent on inspection tours, while the unrelated visits made by the Department of Information and Tourism comprised 68.1 percent of its visits and the Fire Department’s 44.2 percent.
While such visits are made to draw on the experience of other countries, only a handful of the suggestions listed in reports by officials returning from their inspection tours were actually adopted, the office said.
Seven out of the more than 20 agencies under the city government were found to have an adoption rate of less than 60 percent, the office said, including the Department of Information of Tourism, the Department of Economic Development, the Department of Health, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Finance, the Department of Compulsory Military Service and the Fire Department.
Commenting on the findings, Democratic Progressive Party Taipei City Councilor Chuang Ruei-hsiung (莊瑞雄) said the visits had become a convenient pretext for city officials to travel around the world.