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Taiwan hands out vouchers to residents

TAIPEI, January 18 – Taiwan started handing out shopping vouchers to each of the island\’s residents on Sunday, as part of a 2.5-billion-dollar scheme aimed at boosting the island\’s flagging economy.

Every one of the island\’s 22.7 million citizens is entitled to the coupons, worth 3,600 Taiwan dollars (107 US) per person, regardless of age, and they can be spent on goods ranging from food and clothing to electronic appliances.

Government employees began distributing them at more than 14,000 locations island-wide early in the morning.

Taiwan\’s President Ma Ying-jeou said the scheme would give people extra spending power ahead of the Lunar New Year on January 26, and encouraged them to go out and shop.

"Hopefully, the money will provide a boost to retailers," he told reporters after picking up his own set of vouchers near his residence in Taipei.

"So if you are in a position to shop, please spend as much as you can. It could be very helpful to the economy."

Many other countries were monitoring the success of the scheme, he added.

Supporters of the plan have said it should give the island\’s sagging economy a much needed shot in the arm, while critics have labeled it a waste of money, with the cost estimated at 85 billion Taiwan dollars (2.53 billion US).

Peng Tsun-chang, 53, a security guard working in Hsintien outside Taipei, was unhappy with the scheme.

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"The money should be given to people who really need it, people who have lost their jobs. It shouldn\’t be done like this, with everyone getting something," he said.

Taiwan\’s unemployment rate in November hit a four-year high of 4.64 percent largely on business closures and downsizing amid the deteriorating economic climate.

Among other moves to prop up the island\’s economy, Taiwan\’s central bank has cut the cost of borrowing six times in the past three months.

Taiwan\’s exports — the major engine of the economy — in December plunged a record 41.9 percent year on year to 13.64 billion US dollars on weakening demand as the global financial slump worsened.

Exports in December declined for the fourth consecutive month and compared with the 23.30 percent fall in November to 16.78 billion dollars, it said.

The voucher scheme, proposed by the island\’s top economics planning body, the Council for Economic Planning and Development, is based on a similar initiative launched by Japan in 1999.

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