Amid concerns over the nation’s growing fiscal problems, the legislature yesterday slashed the national budget for this year by 1.91 percent, or about NT$37 billion (US$1.27 billion), the largest annual cut in government spending since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office in 2008.
The main targets of the cuts were the various allowances and benefits available to government employees at all levels, ranging from the president and senior government officials to public functionaries, retired civil servants, public school teachers and military personnel.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) lawmakers had demanded further cuts in what they said were excessive privileges for functionaries resulting in unfairness to the general public, but they, as a minority, failed in about 57 motions each decided by a vote.
Under the approved budget statement, the state affairs fund for Ma was cut by one-quarter, or NT$10 million, while various discretionary allowances available for senior government officials were also cut by a quarter.
On top of the 25 percent cut from the discretionary funds, lawmakers cut 10 percent in government officials’ overseas travel expenses and 3 percent from their subsidies for water and electricity bills.
Each government agency faced a 10 percent cut in budgets for media policy promotion projects, a 5 percent budget cut for commissioning research projects and a 30 percent cut in subsidies granted to the National Civil Servant Association, a nationwide association for civil servants.
A budget of NT$11 billion allocated for year-end bonuses for about 381,000 government retirees in the public sector, public school teachers, the military and state-owned enterprises was cut without objection.
The people affected will not receive a bonus equivalent to 1.5 months their pre-retirement salary this year, while the benefits were reserved for those who receive a monthly retirement pension of less than NT$20,000 and families of retirees who were killed, injured or disabled on duty.
Lawmakers all agreed to slash NT$1.28 billion allocated to subsidize public servants for commuting expenses.
The subsidy was distributed to all public servants at all levels of government. The amount each public servant asked to be reimbursed for public transport or fuel costs was estimated at about NT$1,000 a month.
Government agencies were banned from replacing vehicles if the cars were not used for more than 10 years or had not accumulated 125,000km in mileage, with exemptions granted to the replacement of vehicles used in overseas missions, ambulances and patrol cars used by the police.
Following days of cross-party negotiations in the past week, caucus whips managed to reduce the number of budget cut proposals put forward by all four parties from more than 3,000 to 57 after they worked out compromises among different versions of most proposals.
The 57 proposals that lawmakers were still divided on were voted on at the plenary meeting yesterday, the last day of the current session.
Holding a majority in the legislature, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) voted down proposals initiated by the opposition parties to slash a budget allocated for retired civil servants, public school teachers and military personnel to enjoy an 18 percent preferential interest rate on their pensions, as well as a budget for state-owned banks retirees to enjoy a 13 percent preferential rate on their pensions.
The KMT voted to keep education subsidies for government retirees, benefits to cover hospital registration fees for active and retired military personnel and their families, relief bonuses granted to retired government employees at the Lunar New Year, Dragon Boat Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival, and subsidies for insurance premiums for seniors insured under the Civil Service Insurance Scheme, among others.
The plenary meeting was idled yesterday by a TSU’s boycott and it did not begin until 7:30pm, after the TSU’s three demands were accepted by the KMT in consultation with the government.
The first demand was that the government proceed with the opposition’s demand for a Cabinet reshuffle to address economic and livelihood issues.
Second, the opposition demanded the government refer anti-media monopoly bills to the legislature for review by March 22 and that the government not approve the Next Media acquisition or any other media mergers before the bills are enacted.
Finally, the opposition demanded that an earlier legislative decision that only profit-making state-owned enterprises distribute company-performance bonuses to their employees and that the bonuses be capped under 1.2 months’ salary be respected.