Questioning the foreign-language skills of civil servants, Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) Legislator Hsu Chung-hsin (許忠信) said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other government agencies are wasting taxpayers’ money contracting out translation work.
Speaking at a press briefing earlier this week, Hsu asked why these agencies could not find people in their departments to do Chinese-to-English translation.
“Is it because they are not capable of doing the job?” he asked.
Hsu said that based on his calculations, NT$53.73 million (US$1.81 million) out of a total budget of NT$70 million allocated for next year for translation — mainly from Chinese to English — could be done by civil servants.
“The foreign ministry is in charge of international affairs, and it is the government agency that has the most number of foreign-language specialists,” he said. “And yet, the ministry has allocated NT$15.98 million for translation, then subsequently added another NT$5.04 million for editing and translating articles and government information publications.”
Hsu said English is a major subject in civil servant examinations and it accounts for up to 40 percent of the test score for some ministries.
“The government has also allocated a substantial amount of money for English-language training courses for bureaucrats to enhance their English proficiency. Yet a majority of government agencies still contract out English translation and editing jobs to translation service companies, or to do work on their bilingual Web sites, or any information that has to be put in English,” Hsu said.
The problem is conspicuous in government agencies that are staffed with foreign-language specialists, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Office of Trade Negotiations and International Cooperation Department, and the Council for Economic Planning and Development, he said.
Instead of doing the work themselves, almost all foreign-language translation jobs are contracted out, he said.
“It is a big waste of money. The government is not making the best use of the English-language expertise of our civil servants,” he said.
“[President] Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) touting of Taiwan moving a step closer to internationalization is just empty talk. People in Ma’s administration are limited to communicating in Chinese,” Hsu said.
With the government facing a budget shortfall of NT$300 billion for next year, government agencies should look for ways to cut spending and curtail waste, such as doing their own translation and editing instead of contracting it out, he said.
In response, Chang Yu-yen (張玉燕), head of the foreign ministry’s Department of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, said that most of the budget allocation for translation is to cover work on periodicals and other publications that used to be managed by the now defunct-Government Information Office.
Chiu Lung-teng (邱隆藤), deputy head of foreign ministry’s Department of International Information Services, added that the foreign ministry’s employees already have a heavy work load.
“Most of our publications and periodicals deal with many different professional disciplines. This presents some difficulties for people in our department, so we have to contract out the translation and editing work,” Chiu said.