Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) yesterday apologized to the public after ministry staff were found to have given out cigarettes as gifts to lawmakers.
“I didn’t know anything about this until I read the newspapers this morning,” Mao said, describing the gifts as “inappropriate.”
“I have asked them [ministry staff] not to do it again. They should have picked a more appropriate gift,” he said.
Media reports said that ministry staff in charge of liaison between the ministry and the Legislative Yuan gave out Long Life cigarettes as Mid-Autumn Festival gifts when they visited lawmakers in the south.
Lin Ching-li (林清麗), head of the John Tung Foundation’s tobacco control division, said it was a “ridiculous” move which showed that the government does not take tobacco hazard prevention seriously.
Mao made the apology before a meeting with lawmakers on the Transportation Committee about the ministry’s plan to boost public use of the nation’s transportation system.
The ministry had previously budgeted NT$15 billion (US$508.5 billion) on a three-year project to increase use of public transport. However, lawmakers questioned the effectiveness of the project, saying it only raised the usage rate from 13.4 percent in 2009 to 14.3 percent this year.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lee Kun-tse (李昆澤) suggested the ministry consider subsidizing passengers who need to transfer among different transport systems.
Commuters in Taipei get a discount on bus fares if they board the bus within an hour after getting off the MRT and vice versa, Lee said, asking why the Taiwan Railway Administration and Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp could not offer a similar deal.
It would encourage more people to use the public transport system regularly, he said.
While the minister promised to study the possibility, he said the proposal was not feasible in practice.
“Based on international practice, the central government only subsidizes bus fares for people living in remote areas. Subsidies for buses operating in cities should be given out by local governments, and they should weigh their financial ability before doing so. Otherwise, it would become a bottomless pit,” he said.