Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) yesterday defended the city’s use of debt financing for major infrastructure projects, dismissing criticism that it would saddle future generations with massive debts and saying the city had repaid more than NT$91 billion (US$310 million) of its debt to the central government.
An Executive Yuan proposal to adjust the debt ceilings of local governments has sparked a wave of protests from local government officials. Hau has been the most vocal in criticizing the proposal, with the city government estimating that Taipei would see its debt threshold cut by NT$225 billion. The Ministry of Finance estimates that the adjustments would allow Taipei to borrow a maximum of NT$85.5 billion.
Hau said most of the loans had been used on major infrastructure projects, including MRT line extensions, since he took the office six years ago, adding that the city continues to repay its debts.
“It takes at least nine or 10 years to complete a public construction project, and it will be very challenging for the city to finish those projects if its debt ceiling is lowered,” Hau said at Taipei City Hall.
Responding to Minister of Finance Chang Sheng-ford’s (張盛和) suggestion that local governments cancel fireworks shows and large-scale New Year countdown activities amid financial difficulties, Hau said the annual Taipei 101 firework shows and countdown party had become a major event attracting millions of dollars in business opportunities.
“I agree that we should cut government spending at such a difficult time. However, the annual New Year countdown party has not only boosted the city’s international profile, but it has also attracted business opportunities that have lifted the city’s economy,” he said.
Quoting former vice president Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), Hau said: “Thrift is a virtue, and consumption is a merit.”
The mayor added that boosting the local economy by promoting large-scale activities should be encouraged.
According to Taipei City’s Department of Tourism and Information, the budget for the upcoming New Year’s Eve countdown is NT$8 million, while Taipei 101 Mall is seeking sponsors for its Taipei 101 fireworks show.
The city’s New Year’s Eve countdown party has attracted more than 1 million local and foreign visitors annually, boosting businesses for the hotel, retail and many other sectors, the department said.
The city government has no plans to cancel or make any changes to this year’s activities, it said.