Ma says Matsu tourism must be accelerated

The China Post news staff

President Ma Ying-jeou yesterday said tourism and transportation development for Matsu must be accelerated, in response to demands from the outlying island county that gambling businesses be legalized there. Ma landed at Matsu’s small airport with a group of local residents already waiting outside petitioning for his support to develop gambling tourism in the island county, which lies just off the east coast of China. “Respect Matsu people’s choice; quickly implement gambling tourism,” read one banner unfurled by the petitioners. “Matsu people want tourism and development,” read another. The president did not directly address the petitioners, but again heard similar demands at a meeting later in the day with ruling Kuomintang representatives from Matsu. Transport Minister Mao Chi-kuo, who accompanied Ma on the trip, said at the meeting that a draft bill for legalizing gambling will be submitted to the Cabinet by the end of January, and it is hoped that it will be reviewed by the Legislature after the winter break.

Ma said the central government will do what it must in order to accelerate Matsu’s tourism and transportation development. There must not be any delay, and the central government should work with the local government as closely as possible, he added. Gambling is illegal in Taiwan, but there have been efforts to legalize it to promote tourism. A majority of Matsu residents last year voted in favor of a referendum to accept gambling as a way to boost their tourism revenue. Ma, who was visiting Matsu in his capacity as KMT chairman, also told the party meeting that the government is ready to unveil a retirement pension reform package by the end of January.

He said the government has already held 124 meetings with active and retired laborers, military personnel, teachers and civil servants — totaling more than 10,000 people — gauging their opinions on the pension reform. After unveiling the reform package, the government will again seek the opinions of people from all walks of life, and then submit the package to the Legislature after finalizing it, he said. Ma said the government is handling pension reform very carefully because it will affect more than 10 million people. He said he hopes to have the nation reach a consensus on the reform. The president said the government is determined to protect the underprivileged and loyal while reforming the pension system, and will never tolerate any smears against the civil servants, military personnel and teachers. The government has been anxious to reform the nation’s various retirement systems in the wake of widespread fears that the labor pension fund may go bankrupt in the next decade. Labor activists have also been accusing the government of giving much better retirement benefits to teachers, military personnel and civil servants, while ignoring the rights of workers.