Ma Ying-jeou cuts special allowances, but not his pay

Taiwanese leader argues decision to hand over quarter of allowances should stop 'unnecessary squabbling'; opponents say gesture falls short

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 4:09am

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou said yesterday he would cut his annual special allowances by NT$10 million (HK$2.65 million) to stem criticism from opposition legislators.

"In the face of the economic doldrums, I am willing to cut my special state allowances by NT$10 million, hoping that this can end all the unnecessary squabbling and get all parties back to work," Ma said in a speech to an overseas business leaders' summit in Taipei.

Ma has come under strong pressure from opposition lawmakers to give half his monthly salary of NT$470,000 to charity after failing to live up to his campaign promise to lift the island's economic growth rate to 6 per cent a year.

As president, Ma has wide discretion over the use of special state allowances - which are not part of his remuneration - and does not need to account for any spending. In the past they have been used for confidential diplomatic missions but also as a slush fund.

The legislators had demanded that, as well as cutting his pay, he reduce his annual NT$40 million in special allowances by half due to the sizeable shortfall in the government's finances. A budget deficit of NT$214 billion is forecast next year.

Such calls grew even stronger after lawmakers bowed to public pressure on Thursday and agreed to reduce their own annual allowances by 47 per cent. Since then, lawmakers of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party have confronted Taiwanese Premier Sean Chen in the legislature almost every day, asking when Ma would follow suit.

Ma said yesterday that since becoming the island's president in 2008, he had not pocketed one cent of his special allowances, which had all been spent for the public good.

He did not provide details of the spending, but spokesman Fan Chiang Tai-chi said Ma had given his allowances to charities that served minorities and the underprivileged and as consolation payments for the families of military personnel and police officers killed while on duty.

He said Ma had donated NT$75 million since becoming president, more than three times his salary since taking office.

Chen said yesterday he would also cut his annual allowances by a quarter to NT$6.75 million a year because of concerns about the government's current financial situation.

Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin followed suit, cutting his annual special allowances by a quarter, the city government said, adding that the heads of all city departments would also have their allowances cut by a quarter.

But DPP politicians insisted that Ma had not gone far enough.