Foreign aid revamp finds support in the legislature

REFORM: Long delayed due to competing legislative priorities, pressure to make the nation's aid to its allies more transparent and lawful may soon bear fruit


Sun, May 05, 2002 - Page 3

With pressure growing on both sides of the political divide to make Taiwan's foreign aid more transparent and governed by law, three legislative bills on overseas aid are set for review by the legislature this week.

After legislative negotiations, some combination of the three drafts will be incorporated into The International Cooperation and Development Law.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) drew up the Cabinet initiated bill, DPP legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) is sponsoring a second draft bill and KMT lawmaker Apollo Chen (陳學聖) and his DPP colleague Parris Chang (張旭成) jointly are sponsoring the third.

The Cabinet's bill was introduced to the Legislative Yuan during its last session, but failed to pass as the bill was not regarded as urgent enough.

But after the political storm triggered by the exposure of the National Security Bureau's secret fund, reportedly used by former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) for foreign affairs ventures, the legislature is said to have formed a consensus on approval of a law to supervise the government's overseas aid.

MOFA spokeswoman Katharine Chang (張小月) and Apollo Chen both agreed on such urgent need, though Hsiao is not as optimistic.

"We wish to see passage of such a law, so that our overseas funding has a legal basis to operate under," said Katharine Chang.

But Hsiao thinks time for action in this legislative session is running out.

"We are already in May, and the three draft bills have not even been discussed in committee. I fear that the ruling party is putting more emphasis on economic and financially-related laws," said Hsiao.

This legislative session is scheduled to end in June.

In a bid to draw public attention to the need to supervise government funding of overseas aid, a public hearing was held last month by Chen and Parris Chang to highlight major differences in their draft from that of the Executive Yuan.

"The major difference in my version from that of the Cabinet and Hsiao's bill, is that my bill includes the creation of an independent Cabinet-level organization to handle our overseas aid, " said Chen.

Currently, Taiwan's foreign aid is handled by the International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF) under the supervision of the MOFA.

But Chen thinks the current hierarchical status of the ICDF is too low to control aid-related affairs for different government institutes, such as MOFA, the Council of Agriculture and the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

"The establishment of an independent ministry-level institute, for the sake of efficiency, is our main point. In our proposal, the chief executive of the institute would be the minister of foreign affairs, with the premier or vice premier as convener," said Chen.

Apart from the call to set up a Cabinet-level foreign aid organization, the three bills don't differ very much.

"We all agree on the necessity of puttingour foreign assistance under legislative supervision and make foreign aid as transparent as possible" Katharine Chang said.