The Legislative Yuan should amend provisional regulations on the issuance of stipends for lawmakers to conduct “diplomatic congressional exchanges,” which have allowed the fees to evade public scrutiny, Citizen Congress Watch (CCW) said yesterday.

Under the “provisional regulations on the use of congressional exchange expenditure,” lawmakers can claim a stipend of NT$100,000 (US$3,203) twice per year for diplomatic trips, CCW executive director Leo Chang (張宏林) told a news conference in Taipei.

From Jan. 1, 2016, to June 30 this year, lawmakers have claimed 568 stipends totaling NT$56.8 million, but as the provisional rules do not require lawmakers to provide reports on their trips, no accounts of the expenditures have been given, he said.

To claim the stipend, lawmakers only have to present their passports or airline tickets bearing their names to prove that they have traveled abroad, without having to write any reports on which places they visited or the purpose of the trips, he said.

This could put taxpayers’ money at risk of misuse, Chang added.

Chang questioned whether all the issued stipends were claimed by lawmakers themselves, saying that some lawmakers could have allowed their assistants or others to claim the funds.

The CCW does not oppose lawmakers making diplomatic trips — rather, it encourages such trips to help the nation boost its international profile — but the stipend, which is a type of subsidy, should not be a fixed sum, but a variable amount calculated according to lawmakers’ actual expenses, he said.

It also makes little sense that the amount is the same for lawmakers across all eight committees, as the sum allocated for those on the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee should be higher, Chang said.

The provisional rules passed in 2000 are in need of an overhaul, Chang said, calling on lawmakers to propose and pass a bill during the new legislative session that starts next week.

When the current batch of lawmakers assumed office in 2016, they drew a lot of public attention by clamoring for “legislative reforms,” so the CCW hopes that they would live up to their claims and pass the rules quickly, he said.

The group would ask lawmakers who are seeking re-election and other candidates to pledge their support for introducing formal legislation to govern the issuance of the stipend, Chang said.