As a consequence their spouses can rarely find work, which reduces the total family income. Members of the armed forces also do not receive overtime pay, while the risks of injury or death are much higher than in other sectors.
In addition, active and retired generals receive a much greater share of the total salaries and year-end bonuses than do lower-ranking personnel, a situation that some observers say is unfair to mid-career officers who struggle to raise their families, pay their mortgage and put their children through school, and for whom the year-end red envelope was a welcome addition.
Beyond the immediate anger among recently retired officers, the planned cuts risk having serious repercussions on morale among active troops and the ability of the armed forces to attract recruits for an all-volunteer force amid a program to end military conscription by 2015.
Anger at low salaries and perceived disregard for the welfare of military officers also creates opportunities for recruitment by foreign intelligence agents, thus undermining national security.
Contacted for comment, Ministry of National Defense spokesman David Lo (羅紹和) said that plans to cut the year-end bonuses should be carried out in a reasonable and objective fashion.
“We should not let emotional and irrational attacks demoralize the people serving in our military, civil, and educational system and sow discord within society,” Lo said.
In light of the soon-to-be implemented volunteer military system, both ruling and opposition parties, as well as society as a whole, must make the long term benefits of the nation the top priority.
“We have to seriously consider what wages are within reason while making sure they are alluring enough for men to voluntarily sign up for the military,” Lo said.
Meanwhile, discontent within the ranks over the planned cuts, added to Ma’s failure to provide any words of comfort to the military, have created what a former National Security Council official called a “golden opportunity” for the DPP, which has long had tenuous relations with the brass, to “win friends” in the military. Whether the party will seize that opportunity remains to be seen.
Contacted yesterday, the office of DPP Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴), who sits on the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee, would not comment on the projected cuts because the plan is still under review in the legislature.
Additional reporting by Stacy Hsu and Jake Chung