Gov’t lashed for ‘covering up’ finances

The China Post staff and CNA

The actual size of the government’s total liabilities could go as high as NT$10 trillion — the same size as the country’s gross domestic product — if the hidden debt is taken into account, the legislative caucus of the People First Party, a breakaway from the former ruling party Kuomintang, told a press conference yesterday morning. The government’s newly released budget plan for 2001 has only projected a total debt of NT$2.7 trillion for next year.

Caucus spokesman Diane Lee insisted that the government bond laws should be revised to constrain the issuance of new government debts.

The size of government debts in total annual budget should be trimmed from the 15 percent to 2 percent year by year so as to strike a budget balance, said Lee.

In addition, all government debts — both new and outstanding — should be included in the 15 percent limit, Lee said. This is in a sharp contrast with the Cabinet’s plan as the government is seeking to further ease the definition so as to exclude from the 15 percent limit the new debts raised to repay the outstanding debts.

The caucus also criticized the government for being overestimating it annual income. The 2001 budget predicts a total securities transaction tax revenue of NT$112 billion for next year based on a daily turnover of at least NT$130 billion. Such a projection and budgeting is overly optimistic as the daily transaction volume of NT$112 billion is difficult to achieve in view of the recent weakness in local stocks, the caucus said.

Formerly top statistician of the country, Wei Duan, said yesterday the KMT, which still controls more than half of the legislative seats, is not likely to reject the budget but will keep a sharp eye on every item in the budget.

Lee also blamed the government for including unrelated expenditures in social welfares spending.

The NT$500 million earmarked for compensating former criminals wrongly convicted of espionage and a NT$710 million budget aimed at assisting the privatization of RSEA Engineering Company are two examples, said Lee.

As a result, social welfare spending, which the administration vows to raise by 21.5 percent to 18.8 percent of the annual budget, will in fact fall by 15 percent if the budget passes through the legislature, according to Lee.

She also said that the government has failed to give various welfare programs proper priority according to their importance, which she said has resulted in an imbalance of the government’s agenda at the expense of economic development.