Needless spending undercuts government’s frugality policy

The China Post news staff

The central government has been undergoing restructuring in recent years, closing down some offices and merging some others. In theory, the goal is to form a slimmer and more efficient bureaucracy that is run by a smaller staff and less expenses. But some revelations have shown that theory and reality often do not match. At least some government bodies and officials have not been working towards achieving that goal. Functions of the now defunct Government Information Office have been split between the Ministry of Culture (MOC) and the Office of Information Services (OIS), headed by the Cabinet spokesperson. But OIS and MOC have been criticized for their wasteful operations. It is definitely not an easy job for Cheng Li-wen to fulfill her duty as the Cabinet’s spokesperson, and she naturally needs a lot of support. But support from an OIS staffed by more than 70 people seems too much. And running this office, according to lawmakers, requires payrolls totaling more than NT$60 million each year, plus all necessary (and unnecessary) expenses.

The spokesperson has admitted that the office is over-staffed. Earlier this week she said the OIS is addressing the problem by not filling vacancies when any of her staff leaves. But she is not ready to take the further step of immediately cutting staff size, which means unnecessary expenses will continue and work that could be done by one person will continue to be handled by two or even more. It means taxpayers’ money will continue to feed a system whose leader knows perfectly well it is a waste of money running it in its current form, but remains comfortable letting it run that way until someone retires or departs.

The culture minister, Lung Ying-tai, of course, like any other of her Cabinet colleagues, is busy. Her time is very precious and cannot be wasted. So instead of wasting her time, she wastes ours. Not exactly the form of our time, but in the form of money all taxpayers have to spend time making.

It has been revealed that Lung — formerly a cultural critic known for her support for democracy — currently has two offices, one in Taipei and one in Xinzhuang, New Taipei. She is keeping the Taipei office because she does not like the hassles of having to commute to Xinzhuang, where the MOC office is headquartered. Reports have suggested that she is also looking to set up a third office for herself. Asked if it is proper for a minister to have more than one office, Premier Jiang Yi-huah told lawmakers that it is unnecessary. But he still defended Lung by saying that her Taipei office is a temporary one that reduces the time it takes her to travel to the Legislature to meet lawmakers. The excuse is totally absurd. First, the MOC is located in Xinzhuang, not a remote location — such as, let’s say, Fulong, the New Taipei area where the island’s fourth nuclear power plant is being built. Xinzhuang is in the heart of New Taipei’s urban areas, and it is not far enough from the Legislature compound to justify Lung’s needs for a “temporary office.” Second, maintaining an extra office means extra expenses. We don’t see why a Cabinet official should spend more government money when the cash-strapped government is eager to cut expenses. Doesn’t Lung feel it her responsibility to help the government cut expenses? Doesn’t it occur to her that some other Cabinet members’ offices are also outside Taipei, such as the Atomic Energy Council, which is in Yongho, New Taipei? Is their time less precious than hers? Are they less busy than she is? We are not asking government officials to sacrifice everything they have for the nation. That is not how a normal nation should be run. We still hope officials can work comfortably. But when the economy is so bad and so many people are complaining about their hardships, we do hope these government officials can show more sense and more understanding of what really is happening in society.