Council budgets, meetings need checking: watchdog

By Loa Iok-sin  /  Staff reporter

Sat, Dec 07, 2013 - Page 3

Citizen’s Congress Watch (CCW) yesterday said it was concerned about a lack of transparency at local city and county councils, and local governments’ debt, and said the public should monitor their local representative bodies.

“After looking into official documents on local councils’ handling of budgets and transparency, we are shocked to find how ‘easy’ local councilors are when reviewing budget proposals from local governments, and how non-transparent councils are when it comes to allowing citizens to view written or video records of meetings at local councils,” CCW executive director Chang Hung-lin (張宏林) told a news conference.

“While there are many watchdog groups trying to monitor the legislature, we call on the people to organize groups to monitor representative bodies in their cities and counties,” he added.

Chang said that among the councils, only Taipei’s and Greater Kaohsiung’s were doing a decent job when it came to releasing meeting records to the public, while “Hualien, Pingtung, Hsinchu and Miaoli counties are doing the worst job in the country.”

Ku Chung-hwa (顧忠華), a sociology professor at National Chengchi University and a CCW member, said that because of the lack of transparency, many local councils were not conducting budget reviews.

“Last year, county councils in Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli, Nantou, Yunlin, Chiayi and Pingtung counties did not shave even a penny from budget proposals written by the government,” he said. “The Greater Kaohsiung and the Chiayi City councils reduced their budget by about 1 percent, but the rest reduced them by less than 0.5 percent.”

Ku also said that many local governments are seriously in debt, but the councils still quickly approve loan proposals.

“As of October, the total amount of money borrowed by local governments reached NT$871 billion [US$29.4 billion],” Ku said. “This astronomical number is worrisome. Local governments may go broke if checks and balances are not done properly.”

Wang Chun-hsiu (王俊秀), founder of a newly created civil group to monitor the Hsinchu City Council, said the city has a debt of NT$20 billion, but the city council is still in a “harmonious relationship” with the city government.

Meanwhile, Taoyuan Educators’ Union president Peng Ju-yu (彭如玉) said the Taoyuan County council’s refusal to allow the union to observe meetings concerning budgets for education was unacceptable.