The Legislature: A Coliseum in which Political Appointees are Fed to the Lions
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 23, 2009
Last week, two very different scenes played themselve out in the legislature. In the first scene, Foreign Minister Shen Lu-hsun was questioned by legislators. Like a praying mantis, he held forth with eloquence, heedless of personal danger. Without batting an eyelash, he parried every attack launched against him. In the second scene, Liu Tsui-rong, Vice President of the Academia Sinica, was blasted by legislators to where she could no longer lift her head and look them in the eyes. When she returned to the podium and spoke of submitting her resignation in April for health reasons, she burst into tears.
Neither scene was that unusual. When first entering the political arena, political appointees unfamiliar with the culture of the legislature may react like either Shen Lu-hsiung or Liu Tsui-rong. They may decide to go head to head with the legislators, or they may allow themselves to be humiliated in silence. These two scenes account for the bulk of our recent media reports. The public as a whole hasn't reacted strongly to such reports. Few realize that Republic of China political appointees have long risen and fallen, or even perished as a result of such unprofessional treatment within the legislature. Both ruling and opposition party legislators accuse Executive Yuan of having contempt for the legislature. But they themselves trample over the dignity of others during their questioning. Their vicious conduct is part of a preemptive effort to enhance the "status" of members of the legislature.
Legislators who engage in such vicious conduct during questioning demonstrate a lack respect for others. As a result, they are going to find it difficult to get respect from others. They are in the habit of blaming others. But they forget that collectively they are a group of people with very low public credibility. When the legislature reviews legislation, such as US beef imports, what the public sees is two weeks of wheelspinning. Ruling and opposition party legislators, in their effort to oversee the government's loosening of limits on the importation of bone-in beef and organ meats, have proposed a Food Safety Law. The result however, has been legislative gridlock. The public has no way of knowing just which ruling and opposition legislators proposed which bill, not to mention which bill is more desirable.
A Food Safety Law involving US beef is highly controversial. The "Academia Sinica Council Abolition Ordinance" should have been passed twenty years ago. There ought to be no controversy over this. And yet Liu Tsui-rong was blasted by the legislative committees responsible for reviewing the abolition of the ordinance, and forced to silently step down from the podium. Even more astonishingly, the issue the legislators blasted her over had nothing to do with the Academia Sinica Council. The legislators were clearly ignorant of the function of the Academia Sinica Council. Nor did their questioning have anything to do with Academia Sinica administrative matters. On the contrary, their questions were over U.S. beef imports. Legislators were asking the Academia Sinica to provide research on U.S. beef and the possible impacts they might have on public health. For some reason, Liu Tsiu-rong's response "I will take the suggestion under advisement" sent the legislator into a rage. It was hard to understand why he was so angry. When Liu Tsui-rong, an expert on the history of Taiwan, spoke of her unsuccessful attempt to resign half a year ago, she was moved to tears. All those who saw her then are surely asking themselves, "Why must an esteemed Vice President of the Academia Sinica have to put up with such insulting treatment by an ignorant legislator?"
Each year, the executive branch reviews and catalogs outdated laws, and recommends their abolition. Usually there is little controversy, and their recommendations clear the Legislative Yuan without resistance. The Academia Sinica Council Abolition Ordinance was last submitted to the Legislative Yuan eight years ago. But because the session was interrupted, the bill was returned. Why did such a non-controversial bill fail to clear the third reading? Time has passed, and what happened is now uncertain. But it may have been because the issue was unglamorous. Legislators couldn't be bothered to review it. It may have been that the bill was too controversial. Legislators may have batted it back and forth a few times, then conveniently forgotten all about it. In any case, regardless of which committees legislators sit on, regardless of whether they are reviewing the budget or a bill, they always chase after the trendiest issues, to protect themselves and their bills. Nonsense irrelevant to the budget makes headlines. As a result, over the past two or three weeks, U.S. beef imports and the Sun Chung-yu scandal have dominated the Legislative Yuan.
It is said that Director of Health Yang Chi-liang efforts on behalf of U.S. beef were not worth it. Yang, who fought with legislators, was never driven to tears. But he probably never imagined that the Vice President of the Academia Sinica would end up as the legislature's whipping boy. Shen Lu-hsiung was unaware of how vicious legislators could be. Yang Chi-liang, on the other hand, was fully aware. Having entered the bullring, he could only lower his head and charge. He mocked himself, saying he should have brought along a white paper spelling out every policy measure, that he should have carried a briefcase filled with them at all times. As a political appointee, he had been long prepared to resign at any time, but only after speaking his peace.
When did Taiwan, specifically the ROC Legislature, become a place where one is not allowed to speak one's peace? Years ago University of Hong Kong President Chu Ching-wu, wary of the reunification vs. independence controversy on Taiwan, and how it placed undue emphasis on being born into the "right" group, declined an invitation to come to Taiwan, but instead went to Hong Kong. Over the past six months, the Academia Sinica has been urging Harvard scholar David Wang to return to Taiwan. David Wang has refused. Given the images of Liu Tsui-rong driven to tears in the legislature, no wonder David Wang refused to return. Any scholar with a backbone would probably resign. Do not underestimate the tears of political appointees. When the Legislative Yuan becomes a haven for the ignorant, who amuse themselves by trampling over the dignity of political appointees, the legislature will become the primary cause of a political disaster. The government will be unable to recruit people of talent. What sort of future will Taiwan have then?