Monday, October 20, 2008

For Those in Authority, Panic is an Unaffordable Luxury

For Those in Authority, Panic is an Unaffordable Luxury
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation 
October 20, 2008

Ma Ying-jeou has a frugal nature. When he invites foreign guests to lunch, they "brown bag" it. Ma Ying-jeou urges officials not to send flowers or gifts. When florists complain, putting him on the spot, he visits a shoe store and buys a new pair of shoes to stimulate the economy.

The Minister of Health set the legal limit for melamine at 2.5 ppm. But when the public complained, he lacked the courage to defend his policy, With a heavy heart, he stepped down. The current Minister of Health is unwilling to talk about legal limits. Instead he stages photo ops in which he eats bread to demonstrate its safety.

When the inheritance tax was reduced from 50 percent to 10 percent, it was branded a "tax cut for the rich." To mollify critics. the administration cut taxes across the board, benefiting the middle class as well. Now the criticism is "if everybody gets a tax cut, where's the government going get its money?"

This is the plight of the Ma administration. No matter what it does, it's wrong. The policy team finds itself on the horns of a dilemma. The more panicky it gets, the more mistakes it makes. The more mistakes it makes, the more it gets criticized. The more it gets criticized, the less confident it becomes. The less confident it becomes, the more panicky it gets.

During the five months Ma Ying-jeou has been in office, everything has gone wrong, mostly due to external factors. Natural disasters have struck one after another. Add to this global inflation and a once in a century global financial tidal wave, and countless nations find themselves in a state of crisis. Applying the same standards to all of them, then the hardship the public is experiencing cannot be blamed on Ma Ying-jeou. Nevertheless, the opposition DPP has chosen to oppose the ruling administration out of sheer orneriness. For example, the contaminated milk scandal was turned into an anti-Ma campaign. The DPP trotted out demagogic non sequiteurs such as "The lives of Taiwanese have less value than Chinese pigs." But when we learned that 2.5 ppm was the internationally recognized safety standard for melamine levels, the Democratic Progressive Party refused to utter a single "Sorry." Instead, Lin Fang-yu was forced to step down for no good reason. We live in an Age of Unreason.

That said, Ma Ying-jeou's elite team has not demonstrated a capacity to turn crises into opportunities. Instead it has revealed an embarrassing tendency to panic in the face of emergencies, and an extraordinary clumsiness in dealing with crises. It is always behind the curve. Its leadership style has failed to instill public confidence. Instead, it has lost the respect of the public. This group of officials, utterly lacking in self-confidence, has recently become even more panicky. When hard-nosed legislators asked whether officials who received poor approval ratings in the media should forgo their year-end bonuses, they merely hemmed and hawed. They looked like a bunch of Yes Men whose only question when asked to jump is "How high?" Is it really necessary for government officials to abase themselves like this?

The public often offers unsolicited advice to the Ma administration. It says the administration must improve communication with the public. But the administration remains trapped in the Myth of Public Opinion, constantly looking over its shoulder. Therefore we would like to offer the administration a few suggestions. One. Do not try to please everyone. Trying to please everyone and you will only wind up pleasing no one. The recent tax cuts are the best example, Cut this and you are criticized. Cut that and you are criticized. Cut this and that and you are criticized even more harshly. Meanwhile, governments the world over are somehow able to cut taxes.

Two. You must have the courage to do what's right. If it must be done, then do it. If you are in the right, then you must not waver. You must communicate with the public. In addition to acting in good faith, you must rule in accordance with the law. Authority must be supported by expertise. The contaminated milk scandal is a good example. After sacrificing Lin Fang-yu for no reason, the Ministry of Health still has not given us a clear account of events. Meanwhile, didn't Central Bank President Peng Huai-nang's proposal that foreign exchange reserves be used for a "sovereign fund" meet with public approval? Didn't the public praise his courage? This shows us the public is not entirely incapable of understanding reason.

Three. Because people are not entirely incapable of understanding reason, the right direction must be explained to them. One need not appease mobs. A Blue vs. Green standoff prevails on Taiwan. Every issue is polarized. If the administration wants to get things done, it must show determination. In the face of unwarranted verbal abuse such as "Taiwanese people are valued less than Chinese pigs," the administration's response must not be terrified silence. The Ministry of Education's response to demands that it restore the official name "Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall" must not be to pass the buck to a "citizens forum." Otherwise why turn decision-making power over to you in the first place?

Four. Communicating with the public does not mean interfering with the media. Some of the Ma administration's behavior toward the media has been questionable. If officials clearly misspoke, the administration may not demand a retraction. Recent the China Broadcasting Company and Central News Agency have been careful to avoid accusations of featherbedding and interference in the freedom of the press. Those in power should not expect to be media darlings. Those in power have no right to expect the media to be "friendly."

Times are hard on those in power. Ma, Liu and other ivory tower intellectuals rule the nation. Now they realize how hard the job can be on the minds and bodies, and how thick the Fog of War can become. External factors cannot be controlled. One's leadership style however, is one's own responsibility. The policy team must act courageously, communicate effectively, and rebuild its credibility.

2008.10.20 02:02 am





馬英九上任五個月,諸事不順,大部分出於外在環境因素。除了天災不斷,還加上國際性的通貨膨脹,以及「世紀僅見」的全球金融海嘯。多少國家都在危機總動 員,故若持平而觀,民眾度小月,不能全怪馬英九。同時,在野黨為反對而反對,例如藉毒奶事件擴大「反中打馬」戰線,亂罵「台灣人命不如中國豬」來煽風點 火,結果卻證明二點五ppm乃國際接受的安全標準,民進黨卻一點理虧的樣子也無,反倒是林芳郁冤枉下台徒留憾事。這的確是一個難以理喻的時代。

但話說回來,馬英九率領著精英團隊,並未發揮「化險為夷」的處理能力,反而顯現了「遇亂則亂」的窘態,格外拙於應付危機。該反應的時候慢半拍,該展示領袖 風範時卻沒能安定人心,終於失去了民眾的尊重。而一群毫無自信的官員更加亂了手腳,連立委強悍追問是否民調差就該取消年終獎金,都見人事行政首長唯唯諾 諾,一副即刻「遵命」的模樣。政府官員何以弱勢至此?

輿論常「指教」馬政府,要加強與民眾的溝通,卻見政府又常因此卡在民意的迷思上,凡事瞻前顧後。在此,我們給政府幾個具體建議:第一,不要想討好所有的 人,想要面面討好,結果一定面面不討好。最近減稅方案就是最好的例子,減這個也有人罵,減那個也有人罵,「統統有減」之後繼續被罵。但如今不是全球各國都 陸續推出減稅改革嗎?

所以,第二,對的事就勇敢去做,據理就要力爭,理直就要氣壯。與民眾「溝通」,除了誠意之外,也要用依法行政、公權力執行、專業權威作後盾。毒奶事件即是 一例,平白犧牲林芳郁之後,何以衛生署至今仍未敢把事件道理說個清楚?相對之下,央行總裁彭淮南於動用外匯存底作「主權基金」的建議不假辭色,不也眾聲叫 好,讚其擔當?可見民眾不會完全不明事理。

第三,正因為民眾不至於完全不明事理,所以更要向大眾解釋正確方向,不必屈從所有的民意。台灣存在藍綠對立的背景,凡事皆有分裂的意見。政府如果勇於任 事,就應擇善固執。如果面對「台灣人不如中國豬」的無理謾罵只能噤聲,教育部連個中正紀念堂復名議題都說要交由「公民論壇」決定,則決策權到底在誰手裡?

第四,話說回來,與民意溝通,不代表可插手媒體。馬政府與媒體互動,有些事做得不大漂亮。如果明明是政府官員說錯話,不能反過來硬要媒體更正;又像是最近 的央廣與中央社等話題,更該小心避免人事酬庸和「干涉新聞自由」的指責。執政者不可能再是媒體寵兒,也沒道理企求媒體「友善」。


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