The local government’s Department of Information and Tourism squandered taxpayers’ “life savings” after it used money from the city’s emergency secondary reserve fund, which is earmarked for emergency relief, to release a set of eight LINE stickers featuring panda cub Yuan Zai (圓仔), Taipei City Councilor Ho Chih-wei (何志偉) of the Democratic Progressive Party said on Tuesday.
Sources say that the city government and Taipei Zoo have spent nearly NT$6.12 million (US$201,600) promoting the cub since her birth on July 6 last year.
Yuan Zai is the first giant panda to be born in Taiwan and the first cub born to female panda Yuan Yuan (圓圓) and her mate, Tuan Tuan (團團), who were donated to Taiwan by China in 2008.
The city government has taken about NT$3.33 million from the reserve fund to promote the pandas, NT$1.6 million of which went toward the sticker pack and NT$1.73 million for a 10-day outdoor art exhibition featuring 1,600 papier-mache giant pandas made by French artist Paulo Grangeon, the sources said.
“A number of non-public companies have already launched panda-themed LINE stickers. There is really no point in the city government joining the craze, especially if doing so requires the misappropriation of emergency funds,” Ho said.
Despite the spending spree, the city government’s promotional efforts proved fruitless, as the public remain unaware of how the animal became endangered and what to do to help protect them, Ho said.
The department’s senior executive officer, Hsueh Chiu-huo (薛秋火), said that the city government only dipped into the reserve fund because the plan to hold a series of panda-themed events was drawn up after the administration had submitted its budget proposal for the year.
“According to the Budget Act [預算法] and the Manual for Preparing Taipei Municipal Government Subordinate Agency Budget, the city government is allowed to draw from the fund to finance programs implemented in response to unforeseen needs,” Hsueh said.
Hsueh said the panda publicity drive was based on a more general effort to promote species conservation, as evidenced by the cardboard signs featuring endangered polar bears and tree frogs that were installed by the city government during the first phase of the paper panda exhibit between Feb. 28 and Sunday.
“In addition, 200 paper Formosan black bears will debut at the second round of the exhibition at the main plaza of the National Concert Hall tomorrow,” Hsueh said.
As of yesterday, the sticker pack, titled Yuan Zai & Blackie-Bears Fun in Taipei, has been downloaded 2.42 million times and used 2.88 million times, according to statistics provided by the mobile chat application.
The stickers can be downloaded for free until April 10 and are valid for six months.
Additional reporting by CNA