Thursday, August 23, 2007

From Political Appointee to Company Director

From Political Appointee to Company Director
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
August 23, 2007

Yeh Chu-lan has withdrawn from the "Hsieh/Yeh ticket." In exchange, she has been appointed Secretary General of the Presidential Office. Word has emerged from the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation that many out of work political appointees will become independent board members and receive handsome salaries. Ordinary shareholders are blasting this flagrant patronage. Last year the Presidential Palace declared it was "expressing its determination to push through reforms." It would no longer appoint highly paid presidential advisors. Yesterday however, word emerged that the Presidential Palace had already budgeted 7.2 billion NT for a new crop of presidential advisors and would soon begin hiring.

These three news items may appear unrelated. In fact they are closely linked. Chen Shui-bian regards government positions as personal rewards for services rendered. He awards these positions according to his personal whims. The negative example he has set no longer requires comment. Six reorganizations of the cabinet in seven years have created an army of former appointees. This army is now invading the private sector. The line between government and business is now thoroughly blurred. Under such circumstances, ringing slogans about reform merely ring hollow.

The money-losing Taiwan High Speed Rail has 24 vice-presidents. Each of them receives a mind-boggling average annual salary of 63.7 million NT (2 million US) a year. Three of these independent board members receive between two and five million NT. The Taiwan High Speed Rail is hardly an isolated case. Investigators report that former political appointees now serving as independent board members are too numerous to list. Former Executive Yuan Secretary General Wei Chi-lin is single-handedly serving on five boards. The Chen regime has had six Ministers of Finance. They have all joined holding companies, banks, and corporations and been appointed board chairmen.

This is remarkable for two reasons. First, the original reason for having independent board members was to increase internal oversight in order to better manage the company. But many businesses deliberately solicited former political appointees for such posts. Their motive was to solicit favors from the government based on the former political appointees' "guanxi." They hoped to ensure smooth sailing for their companies or receive advance notice of policy developments. Given such realities, how are independent board members who are so handsomely remunerated, so comfortably settled into their featherbeds, to act as independent overseers and fulfill their duty as internal watchdogs?

Second, according to the "Revolving Door Provisions" of the Civil Service Act, no departing official may not accept a company director or company official position in any industry he supervised during his term of office, for a period of three years. When the Democratic Progressive Party was out of office, it adopted a hard line on this matter. It was relentless in its crusade against Kuomintang patronage. Even lowly section chiefs were exempt. But now, an army of former appointees is being directly assigned to any number of state and private sector positions, by none other than the president himself. Many people within these businesses welcome the arrival of this army with open arms, totally ignoring the "Revolving Door Provision." They leave the government sector to join the business sector. They trample over the rule of law. They abandon their defense against political patronage. When the Democratic Progressive Party was out of office it championed one set of principles. Now that it is in power, it champions an entirely different set of principles. How sad is that?

From a more elevated perspective, it is not hard to see that the Chen regime's incompetence during its seven years in power has frittered away the nation's economic future. It has seriously undermined the Republic of China's once disciplined and efficient system of government, including the autonomy of its financial and economic decision-making agencies and the neutrality of the civil service. Who knows how long it will take to repair the destructive effects of Chen Shui-bian's two terms in power?

Consider three related questions: First, Chen Shui-bian repeatedly reorganized his cabinet during his seven years in office in order to create jobs for cronies. He abused people of talent. He demonstrated his contempt for civil service professionals. He undermined the stability and continuity of the nation's administrative system. Chen Shui-bian's ubiquitous meddling, combined with the Democratic Progressive Party's populist demagoguery, offered political appointees no room for independent, ethical, and responsible policy making. What kind of rational decision-making can one engage in, if every week one has to meet Prime Minister Chang Chun-hsiung's absurd demands for "A Benefit a Week?"

Second, the Chen regime corrupts people with remarkable speed and efficiency. The number of people willing to become cabinet ministers are as numerous as lemmings. Many covet these official positions. They know if they lose their government post for no reason, they will be immediately become board chairmen. Given such a vicious cycle, the cabinet is nothing but a "mass production machine for board chairmen." Looking back over the past seven years, one wonders, how such an arrangement can possibly cultivate people of ability. Chen Shui-bian's national policy advisory group was formed seven years ago. Within months advisors were leaving left and right. Now because of the upcoming election, Chen is recruiting new members. Isn't it obvious he is using public funds to buy himself political bosses who can deliver the vote?

Third, the army of political appointees manufactured by the Chen regime is now invading the business sector. They are unlikely to increase the quality of corporate management. They are likely to become albatrosses around management's neck. Generously provided with high salaries, these independent board members have become corporate gatekeepers. Whom among them remembers that once upon a time they were whistleblowers? The relationship between government officials and company officials has become an expanding gray area wide open to abuse. Is the Democratic Progressive Party truly unaware to this fact?

On stage, the curtain is about to ring up on the drama of the presidential election. But to those in the know, what is happening backstage, in dark corners where the spotlights cannot reach, far more frightening changes are going on.

2007.08.23 03:42 am











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