Questioning the steady increase in the Straits Exchange Foundation’s (SEF) budget expenditures, People First Party Legislator Chen Yi-chieh (陳怡潔) yesterday said the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has turned the semi-governmental agency into a pork-barreling haven, staffing it mainly with patronage appointments of retired KMT officials.
“Since the start of Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) tenure as president, the SEF’s personnel expenditure has gone up from NT$108 million [US$3.6 million] in 2008 to the planned NT$160 million for next year. This is close to a 50 percent increase,” she said.
More than one-third of the SEF’s top positions are filled by KMT officials, Chen said.
“The SEF should have a bipartisan stance in negotiating with China. However, it has turned into a haven for KMT retirees, just like the party’s Veterans Affairs Commission,” Chen said, referring to the government agency for the service and benefits of retired military soldiers and officers.
The foundation’s KMT patronage appointments included chairman Lin Join-sane (林中森), secretary-general Kao Koong-lian (高孔廉), as well as a monthly salary of NT$110,000 to former KMT central supervisory committee member Chu Ou (朱甌) for a consultancy position, Chen said.
This position required Chu to meet with the legislature and political parties. However, Chen asked why Chu has not been seen at the legislature in the past years.
Saying the SEF was mainly funded by the government, Chen added that “the increase in the SEF budget amounted to taking taxpayers’ money to pay for salaries and retirement benefit packages for the KMT party ranks.”
The SEF has budgeted for 114 staff positions next year, down two from 116 this year, but the personnel expenditure called for an increase of NT$3 million, Chen said.
“The average annual salary of an SEF staff member is NT$1.4 million. However, considering that some positions are overlapping or non-salaried, the actual average salary is much higher than NT$1.4 million,” Chen said.
Furthermore, she said the SEF’s performance evaluation year-end bonus last year was one month’s salary, but Kao received two-and-a-half months, or close to NT$600,000.
“Kao evaluated himself, and he gave himself a high satisfactory evaluation. It was the same for other KMT retirees with patronage appointment jobs. They all have high evaluation marks and received increasingly higher bonuses over the past five years,” she said.
“These KMT officials are fattening themselves through public coffers,” she said.
In response, SEF spokesperson Ma Shao-chang (馬紹章) said that his agency’s personnel expenditure had not increased significantly since 2008, and the “50 percent increase” is probably a “misunderstanding.”
“Some budget increase was due to additional work demands, with more frequent negotiations and business contacts with China,” he said.
Responding to the accusation that the SEF is becoming a retirement haven for KMT officials, Ma said that only Lin came directly from a KMT party post. Others had already joined the foundation during the previous Democratic Progressive Party’s administration.
“Each staff member is a valuable asset. The important thing is that they do a good job,” he said, adding that the year-end evaluation performance was done in accordance with regulations followed by all government agencies.
However, Chen said that “during a time of economic hardship, the SEF still brazenly expropriates taxpayers’ money to hand out high salaries and extra bonuses its staff.”
“This is the wealthy stealing from the poor. It’s a disgrace. The SEF has no shame,” she said, urging the Mainland Affairs Council, SEF’s supervisory, to enforce strict scrutiny, while calling for stringent measures when the legislature reviews the SEF budget.