Legislature approves NT$2.25 trillion central government budget
Taipei, Jan. 28 (CNA) The Legislature hastily passed an NT$2.251 trillion (US$80.75 billion) central government general budget for 2022 on Friday after cutting NT$27.34 billion from the original spending proposal.
The budget bill cleared the legislative floor late in the evening on the last day of an extraordinary session, which was convened in part to get the 2022 budget done.
The final vote came after a four-hour standoff between the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) over the government's reported plan to lift a ban on imports of Japanese food products from areas affected by the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
The budget represents a projected spending increase of 5.4 percent compared to the budget passed for 2021.
Central government revenues are being projected at NT$2.267 trillion for 2022, which would yield an estimated budget surplus of about NT$15.9 billion, according to budget figures.
The spending cut of NT$27.34 billion was agreed on by all four party caucuses in the Legislature, but the breakdown of the cuts by agency will require further negotiations within the government.
Though small, it will be the largest cut of a proposal since 2014, according to Legislature data.
The Cabinet originally proposed in August 2021 to spend NT$2.2621 trillion in 2022, with 26.6 percent of the total going to social welfare, 20.1 percent to education, cultural and science projects, and 15.7 percent to national defense, according to that proposal.
It later proposed an additional NT$16.3 billion in spending after the government agreed in October 2021 to a 4 percent wage increase for public sector workers in 2022.
The bill looked set to clear the legislative floor by 1 p.m. Friday, as the caucus negotiations had concluded the previous day, but at around 11:10 a.m. Friday, KMT lawmakers swarmed the speaker's podium during a five-minute break and occupied it for the next four hours.
The move was in protest against a statement by DPP Legislator Kuo Kuo-wen (郭國文), who had said earlier in the day that the government should lift the ban on Japanese food imports before the Lunar New Year holiday that starts Saturday.
The import ban was imposed for food safety reasons on March 26, 2011, about two weeks after a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.
For the past 11 years, Taiwan has maintained the ban on food imports from five Japanese prefectures -- Fukushima, where the disaster occurred, and the neighboring Gunma, Chiba, Ibaraki, and Tochigi.
The KMT has expressed strong opposition to easing the import restrictions in the absence of what it called science-backed measures to guarantee the safety of imported Japanese food products from the disaster zone.
With the disruption in the Legislature over the issue, Friday's session was halted for about four hours until DPP legislative caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) apologized on behalf of his party, at around 3:30 p.m., after which the discussions resumed, and the bill was passed at about 6 p.m.
Ker said Kuo's remarks had caused a "misunderstanding" and thus delayed the meeting, but he did not say whether the DPP party caucus backed Kuo's stance on the controversial food import issue.
Kuo later posted an apology on his Facebook page, saying that his statement in the Legislature was his personal view on the matter.
Meanwhile, Cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng (羅秉成) said in a statement Friday afternoon that the government had not set a timeline for resolving the issues related to the food import restrictions.
The reports of an impending announcement by the government after the passage of the 2022 budget bill were "mere speculation" and "not true," Lo said.
The Legislature began the three-week extraordinary session on Jan. 5 to discuss two budget plans and bills that had failed to pass before the end of the regular legislative session on Dec. 31, 2021.
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