GIO restructuring overseas posts

The China Post staff

The Government Information Office (GIO) is planning to scale down its overseas operations in order to cope with a sharply tightening budget. In the first phase, according to United Evening News, 20 out of the GIO’s 59 offices abroad – located in 47 countries – will be closed down. Among others, the 20 include Grenada, the Netherlands, Peru and Venezuela. These units either have no strategic values or fail to yield much returns for the money spent, the paper reported, citing Yeh Kuo-hsin, GIO director general. Yeh said the retrenchment plan is part of government reforms and an effort to function with a decreasing budget. While some of the overseas offices have been less contributive, they are located in countries of strategic importance to Taiwan, hence they would continue to exist, Yeh said.

GIO officials have been instructed to discuss with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission on how to carry out the streamlining plan. Some offices could be merged into MOFA, according to the paper. Last year’s GIO review of overseas posts saw the closure of three offices, located in Liberia, Burkina Faso and Haiti. An initial streamlining plan was drawn up a few days ago, stating that 20 offices would be shut down in phases. The GIO has decided that, to reduce any immediate impact, it will stop sending new representatives to take over the incumbents after their tenure ends, or will just merge several offices into one. Chang Ping-nan, Yeh’s deputy, said GIO offices should only exist in countries with developed mass media or a democratic society.

Offices in critical countries would not be shut down but their operations would be adjusted, said Chang. For instance, the GIO may seek to adjust the number of its offices in the United States. The GIO now has nine offices in the U.S., while in reality it needs less than that. Offices situated in upmarket areas would be moved to less costly areas in line with the island’s struggling fiscal health. GIO’s New York office costs millions of dollars each month in rental and would be moved by the end of June, said Chang.

Yet, some of its offices need to be beefed up, said GIO. The Russian office, who has only two workers now, will be expanded since Russia has been a critical country for Taiwan and its media have been highly interested in Taiwan, said GIO officials.

The government is painstakingly trying to reduce its fiscal burden as the island’s economy is just beginning to recover from its worst year on record.

After sinking around two percent in 2001, Taiwan’s economy is expected to grow over 2.5 percent this year. But there remains huge uncertainties as the outlook for U.S. economic recovery is not completely visible yet. The U.S., one of the biggest buyers for this island’s goods, usually takes up around one quarter of the island’s exports, mainly electronics items. The government has vowed to reduce the number of civil workers to make the establishment more efficient. MOFA, too, is suffering a declining budget.

Earlier, foreign minister Eugene Chien said MOFA’s representative offices abroad would be reduced. MOFA is still evaluating how many of its 126 overseas offices to eliminate. Taiwan currently has official ties with 28 countries.