President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) “lavish” trip to visit the nation’s diplomatic allies in the South Pacific ignored the dire financial situation faced by the nation, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators said yesterday, demanding that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs account for Tsai’s “excessive” spending.
Tsai spent NT$76.8 million (US$2.54 million) on chartered flights, which is more than double the amount former presidents Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) spent, the KMT caucus said, comparing Tsai to an extravagant “empress” inspecting her realm.
Ma in 2010 used two planes to visit six diplomatic allies in the South Pacific.
The trip cost about NT$30 million, the caucus said.
Chen in 2005 used two planes and visited three allies in the region, spending a total of NT$31.51 million, it said.
Tsai between Oct. 28 and Saturday last week visited the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands using four planes, including two Bombardier Global 6000 business jets for her flight to Tuvalu, burning through at least NT$76.8 million, the caucus said.
KMT Legislator Lu Yu-ling (呂玉玲) asked why Tsai chose to take a detour, traveling to Hawaii before turning around to visit the Marshall Islands, adding an additional 3,900km to the trip.
“It is like setting out from Taipei to visit Taichung via Kaohsiung. It makes no sense,” Lu said.
KMT Legislator Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) questioned whether the US allowed Tsai to make a transit stop in Hawaii on condition that she agreed to increase the nation’s procurement of US weapons, since Tsai made the announcement to boost the military budget in Hawaii.
If true, Tsai’s stop in Hawaii had been “disappointing and regrettable,” Chiang said.
KMT Legislator Alicia Wang (王育敏) said Tsai made a transit stop in Hawaii “for the sake of stopping in the US.”
Meanwhile, the ministry refuted allegations of extravagant travel expenses, saying the expenditure conformed to past practices.
At a meeting of the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee, Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lee (李大維) was questioned by Lu about the cost of Tsai’s eight-day visit.
Comparing Tsai’s flight expenses with Ma’s, Lu asked why Tsai needed to choose the more expensive Bombardier Global 6000 jets over ATR-72 aircraft — which was used in Ma’s 2011 visit — alleging that it costs US$500,000 an hour to rent a Global 6000 jet.
She also questioned the need to change to the larger Airbus A350 to fly from Guam to Taipei, rather than taking the Boeing 737-800 that took Tsai from Hawaii to Marshall Islands, accusing the president of unnecessary, extravagant spending.
The cost of the two visits cannot be compared since Ma’s trip was made several years ago, Lee said.
“Due to the natural conditions and limitations of the three Pacific nations, we had to rent three different types of aircraft,” Lee said, adding that the arrangement was to ensure Tsai’s safety and dignity.
Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Director-General Winston Chen (陳文儀) said as Ma traveled to more Pacific nations, the flight distance between them was shorter and within a safe travel range for the ATR-72 aircraft.
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