Presidential Office reneges on ‘mass weddings’

The China Post staff

The Presidential Office has failed to honor its promise of regularly holding “human rights mass weddings”, mainly due to tight government budgets and the economic slowdown. President Chen Shui-bian personally presided the first wedding ceremony ever held at the Presidential Office in October last year. Over a dozen brides and grooms were also permitted to have their photos taken at the picturesque Taipei Guest House, which has been used mainly for official functions. The president also gave valuable gifts to the couples to make their wedding even more memorable. Officials at the Presidential Office announced at that time a plan to hold similar mass wedding ceremonies every year by arranging traditional wedding rituals according to different ethnic groups. The Chinese Culture Renaissance Committee had provided funds for the “human rights mass weddings” last year but it cannot afford regular activities. The Presidential Office had considered asking private enterprises to help provide the cost for the activities, but the business slowdown and sharply dropping share prices have weakened their financial clout to make such contributions. The officials said they have no plans to hold sequels to the weddings before they can find sufficient funding for such events. Meanwhile, a legislator of the opposition People First Party yesterday urged politicians not to organize group tours of the Presidential Office at the cost of the government. He said some officials of local-level governments and candidates planning to participate in the year-end elections have frequently boasted to voters in their constituencies that they have helped organized free travels for thousands of people to the Presidential Office, including transport costs from central Taiwan to Taipei, after the new government took office in May last year. He criticized that such tours have cost loads of dollars for local governments, who have come under mounting pressure of budget deficit. Faltering economy since President Chen Shui-bian took office in May last year has drained the national coffers. Taiwan’s economic growth plummeted to a 26-year low of 1.06 percent in the three months to March and its official forecast for this year was marked down to 4.02 percent from 5.25 percent.

But the country’s highest research body the Academia Sinica last week cut back its projection to 2.38 percent from an earlier 5.21 percent.

The receding economy has also resulted in steady rise in unemployment in the past year, with jobless rate breaking the 4 percent mark in April. The government is expected to announce yet another dismal jobless data this week, showing that unemployment in June hit 4.5 percent.