Cabinet unveils voucher restrictions

‘NEGATIVE LIST APPROACH’: To ensure that the vouchers are used to boost the economy, the Cabinet has drafted rules, with the onus on merchants rather than users

By Shih Hsiu-chuan, Flora Wang and Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Tue, Nov 25, 2008 - Page 3

The government has set a fine of up to five times the amount of the consumer vouchers for violating the restrictions on usage of the coupons to prevent recipients from depositing them rather than procuring goods and services to boost the economy.

Despite approval of the draft special statute on issuing the vouchers and its corresponding budget request of NT$83.5 billion (US$2.495 billion) still pending legislative approval, the government has scheduled the distribution of the vouchers, worth NT$3,600, starting on Jan. 18.

Under the plan, every citizen and foreign spouses granted residency will qualify.

To ensure the vouchers are used to buy goods and services — which the government hopes would contribute to a 0.64 growth in next year’s GDP — some limitations on the use of the vouchers are stipulated in the draft special statute.

Article 6 of the draft requires that shops accept exact change only when consumers pay using the vouchers and bars recipients from reselling the vouchers, turning the vouchers into cash, gift coupons or cash coupons issued by shops and purchasing stored-value cards.

Shops in violation of the article would be fined three to five times the amount of the voucher.

A “negative list approach” would be used to inform the public about limits on usage of the vouchers, Council of Economic Planning and Development Chairman Chen Tain-jy (陳添枝) told a press conference following yesterday’s provisional Cabinet meeting.

Definite regulations on the places where the vouchers can be used, the validity period and permissible voucher transactions will be announced, he said.

Stores, rather than users, would be fined for illegal usage of the vouchers because stores are presumed to have a better understanding of the regulations, Chen said.

The Ministry of Finance will soon announce the rules on how stores can deposit the vouchers in banks and how they can get reimbursement from the government.

The draft says that people who counterfeit or forge the vouchers would be punished according to the Criminal Code.

Yesterday’s meeting also approved another draft special statute designed to take out approximately NT$420 billion in loans for the next four years to increase investment in public construction work, with about NT$100 billion earmarked for each year.

Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) told the meeting that the borrowed money would be used to facilitate transportation, establish a safe, disaster-free environment, improve life quality and set up infrastructure to enhance the country’s competitiveness, a press statement said.

The government initially wished to incorporate the consumer voucher program and the expansion of public construction projects in a single draft.

But on Sunday, it decided to separate the two programs in view of the limited time available for the legislature to review the voucher bill before Lunar New Year.

Meanwhile, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus whip Lin Yi-shih (林益世) said the legislature could pass the voucher bill by Dec. 5 and the budget requests by Dec. 26 at the earliest if the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus supported the proposal. Lin told a press conference that today’s Procedure Committee meeting should manage to have the bill included in Friday’s plenary agenda.

He said the caucus would propose on Friday that the bill be allowed to skip a preliminary review, urging the DPP caucus not to block the KMT proposal. If everything goes smoothly, the bill would clear the legislative floor by Dec. 6 while the Cabinet would be able to submit its budget requests for the vouchers to the legislature on Dec. 8, he said.

The premier would be able to report the scheme to the legislature on Dec. 12, while the legislature would approve the requests by Dec. 26 at the earliest, he said.

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) said the legislature should do its utmost to clear related legislation by the end of this year.

Wang said the government’s voucher scheme lived up to people’s expectations and served their interests. He also confirmed he had persuaded the president to separate the voucher and the public work schemes during the government’s meeting on Sunday night.

Wang said he told the president and the premier it was possible that the voucher scheme would not clear the legislative floor despite the KMT’s control of three-fourths of the legislative seats if the two schemes were combined.

“In the end, the president and Premier Liu both understood and agreed with [my] concerns,” he said.

DPP Legislator Pan Meng-an (潘孟安) told a press conference yesterday the caucus was glad to see the Cabinet had decided to propose two different bills and that the party would not boycott the bill on consumer vouchers.

He said the party also supported the vouchers being issued before the Lunar New Year holiday, but said it hoped the bill would be reviewed thoroughly using normal procedures.

It opposed a timetable calling for the budget to fund the vouchers to be passed by Dec. 22.

Pan said the DPP caucus yesterday drafted a bill offering each person NT$3,800 in cash rather than NT$3,600 in vouchers, hoping the meeting of the Procedure Committee scheduled for today would review the DPP’s bill together with that of the Cabinet.

Pan called on the KMT caucus not to block DPP legislators from submitting their draft in the legislature.