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.
The opposition-controlled body further attached a string of resolutions that require the Examination Yuan to halt the recently revised pension scheme, the Cabinet to resume construction of a highway in eastern Taiwan and the Presidential Office to dissolve task forces without legal foundation.
The Democratic Progressive Party administration originally proposed NT$1.59 trillion spending and NT$1.4 trillion revenues for this year but legislators decided to trim both figures by less than 2.5 percent.
As expected, Kuomintang and People First Party lawmakers rammed through a motion to axe over NT$10 billion spending intended as the first of several payments to buy six PAC III anti-missile systems from the United States.
The lawmakers voted 114:100 to deny the Defense Ministry any money for the purchase, even though the ministry has shifted the cost to regular budgets. They further crossed out expenses aimed at preparing the ministry for acquiring eight diesel-electric submarines and 12 P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft after blocking review of the entire arms package for a year-and-a-half.
Opposition lawmakers have said they may consider reviewing the procurement plan if the DPP government agrees to buy the submarines and aircraft using annual budgets as well. The ministry has rejected such an arrangement, saying it would crowd out other essential military programs.
Taking advantage of their numerical superiority, opposition lawmakers also pushed through several resolutions requiring the Examination Yuan to halt implementing the new pension program for retired government employees, public school teachers and military servicemen.
The program, which will reduce monthly payments for the three groups by up to NT$10,000, was slated to take effect on February 16. The reform, intended to end instances of retirees collecting more funds than their working pay, has come under sharp protest from the three groups.
One legislative resolution stipulates that government agencies must obtain approval from the lawmaking body before finalizing any pension reform. To punish the Examination Yuan and the Ministry of Civil Service that were responsible for the recent reform, opposition lawmakers pushed through resolutions to freeze their budgets until the dispute is settled.
KMT legislative leader Tseng Yung-chuan (曾永權) said he and his colleagues had no choice but to take drastic measures in a bid to protect the interest of public servants, teachers and military personnel.
With a vote of 110:99, the Legislature passed another resolution asking the Cabinet to restart construction of a highway linking Suao and Hualien County before December 25 of this year and freezing two-thirds of the Cabinet's budget until it complies with the demand.
The public works project, proposed by former premier Yu Shyi-kun (游錫堃) to help boost the nation's tourism industry and overall economy, has drawn ferocious criticism from environmental protection groups. To calm the outcry, the Cabinet decided later to halt construction indefinitely.
But opposition lawmakers said that continued inaction is unacceptable, pointing out that 78 percent of residents in the areas favor having the highway and the Legislature approved spending for its construction in December 2003.
Frustrated DPP lawmakers and their Taiwan Solidarity Union allies could do nothing but to lament one setback after another from their seats. Despite several no-shows by maverick member, the KMT
and PFP managed to retain their majority control with help from Nonpartisan Solidarity Union lawmakers.
Together, they adopted a proposal to freeze half of the Mainland Affairs Council's budget after taking out another NT$60 million, to retaliate for President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) New Year's Day declaration to tighten cross-strait investment.
In addition, they denied the MAC-affiliated Chinese Development Fund of all its budget of NT$36 million and suggested the fund be dissolved on the grounds it had engaged in activities already done by the MAC- sponsoring seminars and publications on cross-strait affairs.
On projected revenues, the Legislature passed an opposition-sponsored cut on the Ministry of Finance's planned income. Under the resolution, the ministry may not raise some NT$40.2 billion in funds from selling government shares in the Bank of Taiwan, Taiwan Cooperative Bank, Taiwan Business Bank, Land Bank of Taiwan and other financial institutions where the government has stakes.
Opposition lawmakers said the requirement is intended to prevent what they called shoddy dealings between the government and banking institutions during the ongoing financial reform.