Last Thursday the Legislature finally passed the budget for 2006 – or at least a bit of it. In yet another escalation of hostilities between the Greens and the Blues in government, the KMT-dominated legislature only passed 82% of the original budget.
Ending months of bickering and haggling, the Legislature yesterday finally passed the central government’s 2006 budget, cutting some NT$35 billion and freezing another whopping NT$246 billion, at the demand of opposition lawmakers.
Michael Turton has summarized the cuts which have affected all the DPP major policies, but I want to focus on just one: the Examination Yuan and pension reform.
Another Yuan bites the dust
One of my regular topics is the collapse of one of the five branches of government – the Control Yuan; In two weeks time it will have been empty for a whole year. Although you can make a case for intransigence on both sides causing this, the fact that the pan-Blues have refused to even review the nominations for the Control Yuan yet is an indicator of who is being the more childish. Anyway, this budget has effectively disabled the second branch of government, the Examination Yuan.
The Legislature has frozen two-thirds of the Examination Yuan’s budget – leaving just enough to pay salaries, but not enough to actually do anything. The Examination Yuan is responsible for the civil service, so while its paralysis won’t cause the country to collapse, it does cause problems:
Yao warned that his administration would not be able to hold civil service examinations to recruit civil servants because of a lack of operational funds. The Legislature should be held responsible for interfering with the people’s rights to work for government, which is also a violation of the Constitution, he said.
Without those operational funds, the Examination Yuan’s foundation governing pensions and health insurance for retired servicemen can no longer function, thus affecting the livelihood of some 700,000 retired civil servants and their family members, Yao said.
At a more general level, it means that Taiwan now only has three of its five branches of government active. Luckily the ones still active (the legislative, the executive and the judicial yuans) are the ones that actually matter. While Ma Ying-jeou is quite firm in his claims that Taiwan does not need constitutional reform, his party is doing an excellent job of disabling entire chapters of the ROC’s constitution.
Much ado about pensions
The reason for the KMT’s blocking of the Examination Yuan’s budget is a plan to reform pensions for retired civil servants:
The reform plan would place a cap on the amount of benefits a retired government worker could receive, an attempt to ease the government’s burden in supporting retired civil servants who are currently able to draw a higher level of compensation than that received when they worked.
This bizarre situation is caused by a guarantee of 18% interest on both their bank accounts and their pensions – this in a country where your average account gets much less than 1% interest. Unsurprisingly, the beneficiaries of this scheme are by-and-large loyal supporters of the KMT government which gave them such an excellent perk.
The complaint from the pan-Blues is that this is a politically-motivated attack on KMT supporters – despite the fact that almost everyone agrees that this is a massive (and unjustifiable) perk, that the reform proposal has been moderated several times, and that the Examination Yuan is a body independent of the President and the DPP. The justification for blocking the budget over this is predictable:
Opposition lawmakers froze the Examination Yuan’s budget on the ground that its reform programs are unconstitutional and detrimental to the rights and interests of retired civil servants.
‘Unconsitutional’ seems to be the first accusation hurled whenever a politician doesn’t like something, and in this case it is a laughable accusation. Article 83 of the Constitution:
The Examination Yuan shall be the highest examination organ of the State. It shall be responsible for matters relating to examination, employment, official grading, service rating, salary scales, promotion and transfer, security of tenure, commendation, pension for the deceased’s family, retirement, and old-age pension.
Can’t really get much clearer than that, can you? Decisions on the pensions of government employees is clearly the sole responsibility of the Examination Yuan. Stopping it from doing its job is arguably an unconstitutional move by the Legislature.
At the moment, it’s unclear how long the impasse between the two Yuans will last. If the experience of the Control Yuan is any guide, we’ll be stuck without two branches of government for a long time …