Presidential Office spokesman Fan Chiang Tai-chi (范姜泰基) yesterday turned down a call by former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for state-affairs meetings on pension reforms between political parties in a bid to end rising public outrage over cuts to retirement benefits for government retirees.
“The Executive Yuan is already in the midst of formulating possible reforms to several pension systems ... and it is more appropriate for relevant deliberations to be conducted within the system,” Fan Chiang said.
Amid growing discontent over controversial year-end benefits handed out annually to retirees from the military, the government and public schools, Tsai on Friday called for various political parties and people from different sectors of society to hold state-affairs meetings on pension reforms to address the much-scrutinized issue.
Turning to a pending meeting to be attended by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who also doubles as Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman, Fan Chiang said Ma’s attitude has remained consistent toward such gatherings and that ruling and opposition parties should seek to forge a consensus on issues pertaining to national developments.
“Aides from both parties could engage in preparatory communications once DPP chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) expresses his inclination [to attend such meetings],” Fan Chiang said.
Meanwhile, government spokesperson Cheng Li-weu (鄭麗文) said yesterday the government had decided not to present an amendment to the budget statement for next year in order to comply with Premier Sean Chen’s (陳冲) decision that the NT$20.2 billion (US$697 million) funding for year-end benefits for government retirees would be cut “because of a lack of precedent.”
Chen’s announcement on Oct. 23 of a change of criteria for pension payments earned him praise from the opposition in addressing a social welfare system riddled with inequalities. However, he attracted widespread criticism from those whose benefits would be cut, as well as from some KMT lawmakers.
The plan has since been thrown into doubt because there has been no ensuing amendment to the budget statement, despite repeated calls from the DPP urging the Executive Yuan to follow through on Chen’s promise.
KMT lawmakers, however, are preparing a proposal to maintain the budget.
“We have never wavered in our position since the announcement was made,” Cheng said.
The Executive Yuan is under no pressure to suggest a budget amendment because it remains “within the mandate of the legislature to slash its budget,” Cheng said.
Cheng added that there was no precedent for the Executive Yuan to initiate an amendment to its budget statement when it comes to initiating cuts and added that the Executive Yuan only proposes budget amendments to the legislature when additional spending is sought, citing the 2009 Consumer Voucher Program as a case in point.
As part of the budget about 445,708 retirees from the military, civil service, public schools and state-owned enterprises who opted to for retirement benefits in monthly instalments rather than as one lump sum would receive year-end pension bonuses equivalent to 1.5 months of their pre-retirement salaries.
Amid criticism that the pension was unfair to non-government retirees who are now facing a pensions crisis because their money was locked up in the cash-strapped Labor Insurance Fund — the pension pool upon which their retirement benefits are dependent — Chen proposed the planned reform.
Chen proposed only retirees, or the family of deceased retirees with a monthly pension of NT$20,000 or less — and families of retirees killed, injured or disabled in combat or on military exercises — should be eligible for the year-end benefits which would be handed out ahead of Lunar New Year. This would slash the budget to about 5 percent its original size and would cut the number of recipients to 40,000.
DPP Legislator Pan Men-an (潘孟安) yesterday asked why Chen did not have the backing of a government-initiated amendment adding that between 2001 and this year the Executive Yuan has sent six budget amendments to the legislature.