Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Poor Report Card for the Largest Party in the Legislature

A Poor Report Card for the Largest Party in the Legislature
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
January 17, 2009

The Seventh Legislative Yuan held a surprise plenary session. This surprise delayed the third reading of the Ma administration's 2009 central government budget one full day. Compared to previous years, the Legislative Yuan went easy on the Liu Cabinet. It cut the budget only 1% more than discussed in consultations, a miniscule increase of 0.1%, only 2 billion NT. Judging by the numbers, one day more and 2 billion less is no big deal. But the KMT has over 80 seats in the Legislative Yuan, a supermajority. It should be in complete control. For the Office of the President and the Executive Yuan, this is a very big deal indeed.

Since the Ma administration took office, coordination between the presidential office, the legislature, and the party has been a serious problem for the party and the government. Premier Liu Chao-shiuan has an academic background. He held several key cabinet positions, beginning in the Lee Teng-hui era. But he never interacted closely with the Legislative Yuan. Premier Liu has made a great effort to get along with the legislature. The situation has gradually improved.

The Executive Yuan is the people's highest representative body. It is not limited to 113 legislators. It represents the aggregate opinion of 23 million Republic of China citizens on Taiwan. Each legislator represents the diverse interests and needs of citizens from different electoral districts. Satisfying everyone is not easy. But one must at least satisfy a majority. Only then can one administer the nation smoothly. When the Legislative Yuan confronts the highest executive body, it is not merely confronting a premier appointed by president nominated by the KMT. It is also confronting the policy prescriptions of the ruling party and the government. The public doesn't care whether the relationship between the legislature and executive is good or bad. They care only that the ruling Kuomintang government, which ostensibly has complete control, remains incapable of passing an important budget. That is why consultations between the executive and legislature are so important. Only prior consultation can ensure that policies are smoothly translated into budgets and bills in the legislature.

The failure to pass the central government budget on time came as a complete surprise. The KMT is the only major party in the Legislative Yuan. Even if the DPP resorts to procedural tricks, even if it makes hundreds of motions for floor votes, that is not a problem. The KMT has the numbers. In the end Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng brought down the gavel and adjourned the session. Procedurally speaking he had nothing to apologize for. But during Ah-Bian's eight years of misrule, the legislature convened 16 times. Almost without exception, it burned the midnight oil on the very last day of each session in order to pass the budget. It even held two or three day marathon sessions. Legislative procedures have always allowed for longer or shorter sessions. The question is why Wang Jin-pyng was willing to burn the midnight oil for the Chen Shui-bian administration over the past eight years, but was unwilling to extend the last session for the Ma administration?

The general budget passed on its third reading, albeit a day late. It was cut by only 2 billion NT. The abrupt addition and subtraction of 2 billion forced the Executive Yuan to frantically shift funds hither and thither. It had to cut nearly one billion in grants and programs to the poor in order to make up the shortfall. One billion is an miniscule percentage of the central government's overall budget. But for poor families in need of help, it is an astronomical amount. The Liu Cabinet's two major policy themes were to improve the economy and to provide relief for the poor. But what has it done except cut aid to the economically disadvantaged? Given public perception, it is going to have a hard time explaining itself, even assuming it made the right decision. Was this budget cut really justified? Instead of cutting funds to the borderline poor, why not cut the huge defense budget? No wonder Minister of the Interior Liao Liao-yi went through the roof, and said that if the budget fell short by the end of the year, the Executive Yuan would have to find a way to make up the shortfall.

The legislature cut subsidies to the borderline poor. It even cut subsidies for child-care leave, a major plank in President Ma Ying-jeou's election platform. All failed to pass because KMT legislators blocked them. The public doesn't care whether Hou Tsai-feng, the legislator who blocked the budget, has a beef with Council of Labor Affairs Chairwoman Wang Ju-hsuan. It doesn't care what item this budget falls under. It cares only that the subsidies are in place. Since they failed to pass, what is to become of President Ma's campaign promises?

This budget begat this bill. The legislature adopted 90 motions during this session, including the abolition of the Anti-Hoodlum Act. The numbers might look good. But in his New Year's Day speech President Ma stressed the importance of his draft amendment for the Statute for the Punishment of Corruption. The embarrassing fact is this plank in Ma Ying-jeou's election platform, one of the keys to his victory, failed even to make it through the Legislature's Procedural Committee. Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng could only say with frustration and regret that it was an embarrassment for all. Fortunately some political appointees are able to feel this way. The KMT's image cannot be reformed through Ma Ying-jeou's example of clean governance alone.

The KMT lost power. It has now regained power. The current situation is rife with problems. The Legislative Yuan's words and deeds affect the futures of individual legislators, the continued survival of the Kuomintang administration. The presidential office, the legislature, and the party have a symbiotic relationship. They must seek unity by communicating and coordinating. They truly cannot afford to squabble over petty differences.

中國時報  2009.01.17

第七屆立法院第二會期,在意外中加開一天臨時會結束,這個「小意外」讓馬政府九十八年度的中央政府總預算案晚了一天才完成三讀,對比過去歷年總預算案刪減 額度,立法院對劉內閣算是相當客氣,只比朝野協商百分之一,小加百分之零點一,多刪廿億。從數字上看,多一天、少廿億,只是小事,但是,對於在立法院擁有 八十多席絕對多數、已經完全執政的國民黨、總統府和行政院而言,絕對不能以「小事」觀之。


對行政院而言,面對最高民意機關,不只是一百一十三席立委而已,而是全台灣二千三百萬人民的民意匯聚,每一個立委代表的是選區不同的利益和需求,要全部滿 足並不容易,但至少要做到多數滿足,如此施政才能順暢。對立法院而言,面對最高行政機關,不只是國民黨提名當選的總統所任命的行政院長,而是執政黨政府的 政策意向,民眾不會理解行政、立法兩院之間的關係是好是壞,只會懷疑為什麼完全執政的國民黨政府,還是有重大預算、重大法案不能順利通過?因此,任何重大 政策的產出,行政、立法兩院間的事間協商格外重要,唯有事前協商才可能確保政策化為預算和法案後,在國會能夠順利通關。

完全出人意表的是,中央政府總預算案竟然在會期最後一天未能如期通過。要知道國民黨在立法院畢竟是唯一大黨,即使民進黨使出議事招數,提出上百件表決議 案,對國民黨來說,數人頭爭勝絕對不是問題。立法院長王金平最後敲槌散會,於議事程序無虧,但回顧扁執政的八年期間,立院十六個會期,幾無例外的都是在會 期最後一天挑燈夜戰趕法案、趕預算案,甚至有連續開會二、三天以一次會計,議事程序本來就有空間讓立法院會可長可短,問題是為什麼過去八年,王金平願意為 扁政府的預算案挑燈夜戰,卻不願為了馬政府的預算案,在會期最後一天拚出一個結果?

遲了一天,總預算案還是完成三讀,只是多刪了廿億,因為這突如其來增刪的廿億,行政院東挪西調,竟以刪減近貧補助方案的十億湊數,十億在中央政府總預算案 裡只是非常小的數字,但對需要幫助的近貧家庭而言,卻是非常大的金額,尤其是劉內閣施政兩大主軸,一是拚經濟,二就是救弱勢,結果刪到弱勢族群的預算,從 社會觀感看,有理都說不清,何況刪這筆預算,真有理嗎?要刪近貧預算,為什麼不刪龐大的國防預算呢?難怪內政部長廖了以要翻臉,直言萬一到了年底預算不 足,還是得行政院想辦法彌補。

不但多刪了近貧補助預算,連馬英九總統在競選前、就任後都視之為重大政策的育嬰假津貼補助,都因為國民黨立委的阻擋未能過關,民眾不會問阻擋預算的立委侯 彩鳳到底和勞委會主委王如玄有什麼過節,也不會問這筆預算到底要編在哪個科目項下,重點是政府津貼補助要到位,預算既未過關,馬總統的政見還能兌現嗎?

預算如此,法案亦復如是。立法院這個會期通過九十個議案,包括檢肅流氓條例的廢止案,從數字成績單上來說算漂亮,尷尬的是,偏偏又是馬總統的重大政見、也 是馬英九當選的關鍵之一、馬總統元旦講話還特別強調、與廉能政治相關的《貪汙治罪條例》修正草案,竟連程序委員會都排不上,法務部長王清峰只能無奈地感 慨:「講開了大家難看!」只要政務官還有這樣的感慨,國民黨的形象就不可能只靠著馬英九要樹立的廉能形象而提升。


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