Sometimes, form means more than substance.
This was the case yesterday in the legislature's Procedure Committee, when a lawmaker made a dramatic protest against an arms procurement deal, which already had no chance of moving forward because of opposition from the pan-blue alliance.
Independent Legislator Li Ao (
Some of those attending the meeting ran out of the conference room, coughing and with tears in their eyes.
The committee was recessed for about 15 minutes, and Li was referred to the Discipline Committee for punishment.
"I am an old man and I can risk my life ... and see who dares to pass the bill," said Li, who has also declared his candidacy for the Taipei mayoral election in December.
The legislative shenanigans came despite the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) having reneged on a promise it made last Thursday to put a supplemental budget for the purchase of US weapons onto the legislative agenda, effectively dooming the bill.
"I am really pissed off," Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (
The effort to procure 12 P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, eight diesel-electric submarines and six Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) anti-missile batteries from the US has been stalled since 2004.
In its initial incarnation, the deal was submitted by the Cabinet to the legislature as a NT$610.8 billion (US$16 billion) special budget.
After a series of revisions and price cuts, the latest effort to procure the weapons systems has taken the form of a NT$6.2 billion supplemental budget, which would provide initial funding for only part of the three programs.
The supplemental budget includes initial funding for the purchase of the P-3Cs, the upgrading of PAC-2 anti-missile batteries, and partial funding for the submarine design, as well as NT$700 million for building an airstrip on Taiping Island.
Muddying the waters is the fact that the special budget -- reduced to NT$340 billion for the 12 P-3Cs and the eight subs only -- is still before the legislature.
The Executive Yuan yesterday proposed a motion to remove the special arms budget from consideration and put the supplemental budget on the legislative agenda, but both requests were turned down by the committee.
During a multi-party negotiation session on Thursday, the KMT agreed to let the NT$6.2 billion revised arms budget through during yesterday's procedure committee as long as the special budget was withdrawn.
After some members of the KMT caucus supported a motion by the PFP to block the supplemental budget, KMT Legislator Shuai Hua-ming (帥化民) decried the move, saying it was time to move the arms procurement forward.
"The bill has been entangled with too much partisan interest. I can't stand it anymore that we would sacrifice national security for party interests," Shuai said.
Shuai referred to rumors of an under-the-table deal between the KMT and the PFP in which the KMT would withdraw support of the supplemental budget if the PFP helped obstruct a proposed statute concerning the KMT's stolen party assets in return.
"We [the pan-blue camp] initially opposed the bill because we were against using the special budget mechanism to buy the weapons," Shuai said.
"Now that the special budget is to be retracted, and the purchase of submarines is to be replaced with an initial budget for an assessment, I don't see any reason for [the KMT and PFP] to boycott a review of the budget," he said.
Meanwhile, Lee told reporters that he was helpless, because lawmakers couldn't even live up to the promises they had made in a meeting organized by Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平).
Lee told Wang that he was in need of his help, but Wang only responded: "I am afraid that I can only make a futile effort at this time."
Meanwhile, the PFP legislative caucus yesterday called a press conference restating that the party would never pass the arms bill.
In related news, Premier Su Tseng-chang (
"It seems to me that he [Ma] will not be able to keep his word to the public again," Su said. "I hope that he will not sacrifice the public just because of political concerns about cooperation between the pan-blue camp."
Responding to Su's criticism, Ma said that he "always meant what he said."
He asked Su to look at the "overall policy direction as a whole, and not just on one, or two Procedure Committee meetings."
Additional reporting by Jimmy Chuang
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