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Lawmakers support review of legislative subsidies

TAIPEI -- Legislative caucuses across party lines yesterday threw their support behind the idea of reviewing several subsidies given to lawmakers, but they had different opinions on how to handle the controversial issue.

They were responding to a proposal by Legislator Tsai Cheng-yuan (蔡正元) of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) to eliminate nine different subsidies for legislators that lack any legal foundation but cost taxpayers over NT$1.72 million (US$59,000) per lawmaker per year.

The subsidies, covering expenses such as overseas trips, cellphone bills, fuel, research and accommodation, came under scrutiny after the Cabinet decided to abolish a year-end bonus for most retired civil servants due to mounting public discontent amid the economic downturn.

They are paid to legislators in addition to their salary of about NT$210,000 per month.

Democratic Progressive Party caucus secretary Tsai Chi-chang (蔡其昌) said the fastest way to address the problem would be for Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) to organize negotiations with all party caucuses to discuss legalizing the subsidies.

A proposal to review the system by either a single caucus or a legislator would have to go through the Legislature's Procedure Committee, and if the committee did not approve it, the reform would be harder to push, Tsai noted.

But the issue needs to be addressed as a matter of public perception because only when the Legislature voluntarily reviews its own controversial budgets will it have the right to review those of other government agencies, he said.

DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) said his caucus hoped Wang could convene negotiations between the KMT and opposition parties today.

Ker contended that some of the subsidies are in fact necessary because lawmakers provide services to their constituents under the single-member-district system and can hardly afford the resulting expenses.

Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇), Tsai's KMT counterpart, said it would not be contradictory to review the subsidies one by one and legalize all of them. He said he personally disagreed, however, with the suggestion of removing them all.

Wu also said that Wang plays a neutral role in the Legislature and should not be the one to launch a cross-caucus discussion.

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