Gov’t to ease curbs on public servants’ travel

The China Post news staff

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The government is poised to ease restrictions on public servants’ travel plans as a way to encourage more of them to take advantage of a recreational tour program paid by taxpayers and help boost domestic consumption. The Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD) will soon submit a plan to relax the measures to the Cabinet for discussion and final approval. Instead of giving overtime pay to public servants who do not use up their annual leave, the previous government adopted a program to give a NT$16,000 subsidy to each public servant for pleasure trips in Taiwan every year. Senior officials said the public servants need relaxation and recreation so they can provide better service to the public. According to the measure, government employees would present their invoices for transportation fees, hotel bills, or spending on souvenirs to claim the fund each year. However, the previous administration’s regulations prohibit public servants from getting a refund for their expenses at the same areas of their workplace or residence. Under the former rules, government employees seeking the subsidy must stay overnight at a hotel. They should also join group tours, according to the rules. The restrictions were designed to prevent public servants from using invoices of purchases near their offices or living places to claim the fund without really taking the recreational trips. But the restrictive rules have drawn strong protest from public servants after 1,600 of them were sued for cheating. The convicted ones were found to have made purchases of products without taking trips and then reselling them for cash. Taking a cue from the former first family’s use of other people’s invoices or receipts to claim reimbursement from former President Chen Shui-bian’s “state affairs fund,” many public servants started gathering invoices used by other people to claim money from the travel fund. To avoid legal troubles, leaders of the newly organized labor union at the Council of Labor Affairs are trying to demand that the government scrap the whole recreational travel programs. They said that public servants prefer to get their overtime pay the government owes them, rather than taking the mandatory trips in order to get travel subsidies.

After reviewing the problems, CEPD officials decided to present a proposal to the Cabinet to eliminate all the restrictions so that people hired by the government can more easily use up the budget. In the year 2005, the government spent a total of NT$9.4 billion in taxpayer money on travel and recreational activities for around a half-million public servants. Officials of Chen’s administration said such spending contributed between 0.07 and 0.12 of a percentage point to the economic growth rate that year.