Taiwanese institutions forgo lavish New Year banquets

Military leads the charge in austerity stakes by axing gifts and banning treats such as abalone and duck from traditional thank-you banquets

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 January, 2013, 4:36am

Abalone and roast duck will be off the menu at the banquet thrown by Taiwan's military before the Lunar New Year holiday, with boxed meals served instead.

Also gone will be the generous prizes and top musical performances that were a feature of the event, held to thank entry-level servicemen for their hard work over the past year.

Defence ministry spokesman Luo Shou-he said the moves had been made to "observe austerity in the face of hard economic times".

It has long been a tradition in Taiwan for the military, government agencies and private companies to throw year-end banquets before the Lunar New Year - which begins on February 10 this year - in appreciation of the efforts of their employees.

Taiwan's persistent economic woes, however, have taken a toll on year-end bonuses and year-end banquets.

The defence ministry had to cut its budget for the year-end banquet sharply following a government decision not to throw fancy dinners for civil servants due to growing public fury over the lacklustre economic performance of President Ma Ying-jeou's administration.

In the past, the defence ministry was known for its lavish year-end banquets for servicemen. When Taiwan's stock market index shot above 10,000 points in the late 1990s, expensive 12-course dinners featuring abalone, lobster and even shark's fin soup were served at each 12-person table.

Environmental concerns eventually saw shark fin taken off the menu. But the year-end banquets thrown by the military were always rated one of the best within government circles.

Expensive prizes, including huge flat-panel televisions and notebook computers - either provided by generals or donated by private companies - were given away in lucky draws. Performances by military troupes or bands were another highlight.

But Luo said there would be no prize draws or performances at next month's banquet.

"Instead of outsourcing the dinner to caterers as was done in the past, the year-end banquet this year will be prepared by the military's joint kitchen," he said.

Boxed dinners featuring chicken drumsticks, shrimp, squid, pork, vegetables and rice would be served. To add some sense of occasion, there would also be a hot pot on each table.

While the military is at least maintaining its tradition of throwing a banquet for staff, the Presidential Office, cabinet, Examination Yuan (which supervises the civil service) and Control Yuan (the government watchdog) have all cancelled their year-end banquets.

"The economic situation here has made it difficult for government officials to throw a celebration, but President Ma will still extend gratitude to the staff," Presidential Office spokesman Fan Chiang Tai-chi said.

Cabinet spokeswoman Cheng Li-wen said the cabinet had decided against holding a year-end banquet for its staff in consideration of public sentiment, but it had not demanded that all agencies under the cabinet follow suit.

That hint of a reprieve came too late for the staff of the Civil Aeronautics Administration, which recently cancelled its year-end banquet plans. Seventeen aviation stations received calls from the administration telling them to "scrap the banquets during the difficult times". The stations had to apologise to guests already invited.

None of Taiwan's political parties, including the Kuomintang, the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, the People's First Party and the Taiwan Solidarity Union, plan to hold banquets for their staff either.

And although big companies will still hold year-end banquets for their staff, many small companies have followed the government and cancelled reservations.

Lin Chin-cheng, head of the Taipei Restaurant and Beverage Workers Union, said cancellations by government agencies and private businesses had meant a 30 per cent to 40 per cent decline in seasonal business.

"With a number of local companies failing to give year-end bonuses to their employees, how would you expect them to hold banquets for their employees?" Lin said.