Constitutionally Defined Roles must be Clearly Delineated
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
April 11, 2008
Vice President elect Vincent Siew has been in the media spotlight lately. His visibility has been high. He will be attending the Boao Forum. Clearly he is no shrinking violet. Prior to the elections, Ma Ying-jeou announced that Mr. Siew would have a key role in Taiwan's economic reconstruction. He said that once the Blue camp returns to office, it would rely on his financial and economic expertise. He would participate in future economic planning. Here we would like to remind the incoming administration in advance to pay close attention to the constitutional issues, in order to avoid future problems.
Ever since March 20, Siew has consistently characterized himself as the man at the financial helm. A few days ago he told the media that after May 20, oil prices will be adjusted upward in a single step. We do not oppose such a policy, but it would be more appropriate to leave such specifics to the minister of economic affairs or the Premier. Siew also said that future Premiers ought to have such a tacit understanding. Soon after Siew made his remarks news emerged that Liu Chao-hsuang would be appointed Premier. Liu was once Siew's Deputy Premier. They have an understanding. But that is not the point. We have no objections to Ma's cabinet appointments. But we feel that even though co-operation between Ma, Siew, and Liu may be good, it is inappropriate for the Vice President elect to be setting all these pre-conditions for the future Premier.
After Ma Ying-jeou was elected President, he was interviewed by the media. He said that he would depend heavily on Mr. Siew to coordinate between the Executive Yuan, the Legislative Yuan, and KMT Party headquarters. We celebrate the harmonious and cooperative relationship between the President and Vice President. But we must demand that the roles of the President, Vice President, and Premier be clarified in accordance with the constitution. We would prefer to be gadflies, and faithfully express our concerns in advance. We would prefer not to wait until problems arise to engage in criticism.
The Vice President's role is to replace the President in the event of the President's death or resignation. Apart from that, the constitution does not specify his authority and duties. How his talents are used depends on a mutual understanding between him and the President. When appropriate, a President may rely on his Vice President. But a Vice President must remember his place. If the Vice President constantly issues policy directives, if a coordinator becomes a commander, if a Vice President becomes a de facto President, he has exceeded his authority. The President cannot authorize the Vice President to exercise greater authority than the President himself. According to the constitution the President is the chief executive. But according to the constitution the Executive Yuan is the highest-ranking executive body, and the Premier is the head of the Executive Yuan. Within the limits of the Executive Yuan's authority, the President must respect the Premier. The Vice-President even more so. Siew is merely Vice President elect. He must know his place. Whether oil prices should be adjusted upward in a single step does not sound like something that the President has the authority to decide. It is not among Ma Ying-jeou's campaign pledges. It is not something the Vice President has the constitutional authority to decide in place of the Premier.
The constitution authorizes the President to appoint the Premier. The President elect has not authorized the Vice President elect to set preconditions for the future Premier. And even if he had, it is inappropriate for the Vice President elect to be issuing these directives. This merely provokes suspicions that members of the incoming administration are jockeying for positions. Ma Ying-jeou may not mind if Vincent Siew plays an active part in his administration. But that doesn't mean the Executive Yuan must take orders from the Vice President. As Vice President, Mr. Siew may have been authorized by the President to act as a facilitator, to help ensure full cooperation with the Executive Yuan in matters of finance. But if he exceeds his authority, if he interferes with the Executive Yuan's authority, he will be acting contrary to the the President's intentions.
Political appointees must be treated with respect. The Premier is the head of the cabinet. The President must accord him due respect, particularly over cabinet appointments and policy formulation. The Premier must not be viewed as a subordinate who can be arbitarily ordered about. The Premier is the head of the cabinet. His cabinet members should be accorded all respect due political appointees. Only if they set policy, can they apply their extensive knowledge and take responsibility for any consequences. Only then will they be responsible policy makers, instead of mealy-mouthed Yes Men. Over the past eight years, cabinet members have been hired and fired according to whim. Hence their reluctance to fulfill their duties. The new government must not make the same mistake. The President and the Executive Yuan must know their place. The Vice President even more so.
The Vice President elect has announced specific personnel appointments and policy directions. This is micromanagement, and calls his leadership skills into question. He must not to set a bad example for the new administration.
Siew is a highly qualified financial and economic expert. He is the former boss of the new Premier. But Siew is the future Vice President. He has no constitutionally delegated authority. Nor can he usurp the authority of the Executive Yuan and the cabinet merely because the President trusts him. If he gives the impression that he is the financial and economic policy maker, and not merely an outside facilitator, the new administration may well undergo a crisis of leadership. That would be unfortunate. The incoming administration must proceed with caution.