More hurdles ahead for Tsai’s pension reform

By Stephanie Chao, The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan — President Tsai Ing-wen administration’s efforts to carry out pension reform, after beginning in the steamy summer of 2016, have weathered challenges big and small, from angry committee members nearly coming to blows in meetings to heated protests on the street after the government’s regional forums.

Opposition to the so-called second stage of pension reform seemed to reach its peak on Jan. 22, when a national conference on reform issues convened at the Presidential Office.

But for the Tsai administration to meet its self-imposed deadline of this summer for completing pension reform, it must overcome two more hurdles: the Examination Yuan and Legislative Yuan.

The Cabinet’s pension reform bill will require review and approval by the Examination Yuan, which oversees pension-related issues. What will be tricky about getting approval is that Examination Yuan chief Wu Jin-lin and a majority of the Examination Yuan members were not nominated by Tsai, but by her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou.

During Ma’s tenure, the Kuomintang (KMT) spearheaded its own pension reform efforts to no avail, due to overwhelming pressure from its traditional support base in the public sector.

Late February, Legislature approved Tsai’s nominees for the Examination Yuan’s deputy chief. DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming had said that passing the nominations would speed up the Examination Yuan’s review of the Cabinet’s pension reform bill.

According to Ker, the biggest uncertainty in the entire reform process is the Examination Yuan.

The government branch may produce a pension reform plan of its own, depending on the results of a review on March 7. Ker said he feared that KMT-era Examination Yuan members would roll out a version that does not meet the Tsai administration’s expectations, which include ending a preferential 18 percent bank interest rate on pension deposits for public sector employees and other deep cuts to benefits.

Should review procedures be delayed in the Examination Yuan, the DPP caucus may simply propose its own draft bill for legislative review, Ker said.

The president has promised that the government-version pension reform bill would be sent into the Legislature by the end of March, though Ker has concerns over whether the tight schedule is realistic.

“Even if the Examination Yuan and Executive Yuan send bills into the Legislature by the end of March, it would be very difficult to review and pass the bill before regular recess at the end of May or even if the session is extended to mid-June,” he said.

Ker said he hoped an extraordinary legislative session could be convened this summer to review and to approve pension reform.