First Rank Academics Must Be Part of the Tax Reform Commission
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 25, 2008
The composition of the Executive Yuan Tax Reform Commission and its modus operandi will soon be announced. The China Times has published numerous editorials analyzing the importance of this committee and offering suggestions for its future direction. Unfortunately the candidate roster announced by the Executive Yuan falls far short of tax reform ideals. We hope the Executive Yuan will rethink its roster over the next few days. It must offer a presentable list of scholars. It must use discretion from very outset.
We had hoped that the Chairman of the third Tax Reform Commission would, in contrast to the first and second Tax Reform Commissions, be a respected scholar. But the Executive Yuan intends to appoint Vice Premier Paul Chiu to the position. Other candidates' names appeared in media reports. Their academic credentials fall short of expectations. Since May 20, the Ministry of Finance has been earnestly endeavoring to implement the Ma Siew administration's policy proposals. It is apparently concerned that if an academic is appointed Chairman of the Tax Reform Commission, its policy recommendations may differ significantly from the Ma Siew administration's Tax Policy White Paper. So they simply had the Vice Premier double as chairman. Not only that, , even the vice chairman will be someone who contributed to the Ma Siew administration's White Paper. The intention of this "belt and suspenders" approach is apparently to ensure the seamless integration of the commission's conclusions with the Ma Siew administration's policy proposals. Such chairman and vice chairman assignments may be painstaking, but they also limit the commission's latitude. Frankly, after such contortions, people no longer expect much of the Tax Reform Commission.
In terms of qualifications, including seniority and erudition, Chen Ting-an, Chairman of the second Tax Reform Commission is the most suitable candidate for Chairman of the Third Tax Reform Commision. If Vice Premier Chiu doubles as chairman, then Professor Chen is the best candidate for vice chairman. In terms of practical experience and tax management ideas, former Minister of Finance Lin Chuan and Hsu Chia-tung are both outstanding scholars. They are smart, farsighted, and well received by the community. Unfortunately several candidates were omitted from the list leaked by the media. These omissions strike one as the deliberate neglect of genius and the glorification of mediocrity. If the nominees for chairman and vice chairman leaked by the media are accurate, then outstanding scholars of the first rank with a wealth of experience have been deliberately excluded. Instead, the scholars involved in the development of the Ma Siew administration's three Tax Reform Commissions have been forced to play ball. In which case the outside world's perception will inevitably be negative.
Compared to the Executive Yuan Mainland Affairs Council, we see how niggardly the Ministry of Finance was in its plans for the Tax Reform Commission. President Ma knows the public on Taiwan has different views on cross-strait policy. The appointment of Taiwan Solidarity Union legislator Lai Hsing-yuan as Chairman of the Mainland Affairs Committee was an effort to seek consensus. Besides criticizing her political coloration, the outside world leveled all sorts of personal criticisms against Lai Hsing-yuan. Yet the Presidential Office and the Executive Yuan maintained a unified front. They adopted a policy of inclusiveness to create a diversified platform for cross-strait dialogue. President Ma was open in promoting cross-strait policy. Why can't the Executive Yuan and the Ministry of Finance be equally open in promoting tax reform policy? The Ma Siew administration felt no need to force the drafters of their cross-strait White Paper on the Mainland Affairs Council. So why should the Executive Yuan reject other, more suitable candidates? Why must the drafter of the Tax Policy White Paper be in charge of the Tax Reform Commission? Cross-strait policy is a sensitive issue, affecting as it does the public's feelings about unification vs. independence. Even so, the government was able to increase participation by recruiting TSU personnel. Tax policy involves cold economic analysis. It is nowhere as politically sensitive as cross-strait policy. So why the compulsion to wrap oneself in a cocoon?
We would like to remind the Ma Siew administration that under democratic pluralism, with its free flow of information, whenever one is confronted with different views on policy, it is best to incorporate them into the system. it is best to be completely open, and not attempt to manipulate the dialogue. If tax reform advocates in academia are unable to find channels to express their views, if their views are suppressed, they will use the Internet, newspapers, or blogs to disseminate their views. Therefore, even assuming the commission was intended to be a body in which "What I say, goes." the public on Taiwan cannot allow the commission to lay down the law. Attempts to neglect ability and glorify mediocrity will not create consensus. They will merely give people the mistaken impression the government wants to ram through its agenda. In which case its losses will exceed its gains.
According to media reports the composition of the commission will be determined by the Ministry of Finance. This apparently reflects Minister of Finance Lee Sush-der's notion that "The Tax Reform Commission's purpose is to realize the Ma Siew administration's policy proposals." We really have no desire to comment on the Ministry of Finance's myopia. We are however deeply concerned about the Tax Reform Commission's direction. We hope Vice Premier Chiu will rethink his position. If Professors Chen Ting-an, Lin Chuan, former Minister Shea Jia-dong and other talented individuals are excluded, then the National Security Fund will probably be forced to prop up the market the very first day the Tax Reform Commission begins operation. Only a first rank scholar can come up with first rate policy prescriptions. Absent first rank scholars, one will only end up with third rate policy prescriptions. Chairman Chiu of the Tax Reform Commission has a long and difficult journey ahead of him. Even if we have to get down on our knees and beg, the Tax Reform Commission must invite at least a few first rank scholars.