Friday, November 27, 2009

No Hit Parade for Public Grievances, No Fast Track for Political Accomplishments

No Hit Parade for Public Grievances, No Fast Track for Political Accomplishments
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
November 27, 2009

From his "Meat and Potatoes Economics" inititiative, to his live vote on "Ten Major Public Grievances," Premier Wu Den-yih has shown that he is indeed a "man of the people." But his call for a live vote on public grievances, and his promise to budget 500 billion NT for a "flagship project" to eliminate public grievances, is dubious, to say the least.
When a ruling administration is genuinely determined to address public grievances, it should be applauded. At least this is not a phony issue. Compared to the "rectification of names and the authoring of a new constitution," or the "referendum to join the UN," it is far more concrete, far more real, and far more relevant to our daily lives. Getting get past empty political disputes, and getting back to fundamental issues of public welfare would be a positive development. But if government officials have no clue what the public is unhappy about, and need a live vote to determine which grievances ought to be given the highest priority, then it is unconsciously engaging in another form populist pandering.

How did this notion of a live vote on public grievances come about? After Wu Den-yih announced his "Meat and Potatoes Economics" initiative, the CEPD responded by cooking up over 200 action programs and sub-programs. To Wu Den-yih, these programs were overkill. They tried to be all things to all people. They tried to do too much. In the end nothing would get done. He asked the ministries to pick out those programs that would "impress" the public the most. This would maximize their impact. In other words, Premier Wu wanted to make a major gesture that would put a shine on his halo, that he could introduce with a great deal of fanfare. But here's the rub. Is ruling a nation really so simple? Can one really pull a few rabbits out of one's hat and leave the public gasping in astonishment?

In today's society, information is readily available. Every day the government is the target of countless petitions, street protests, and criticisms and suggestions from bloggers on the Internet. Doe the government really not know what people are unhappy about? In fact, as long as the various ministries compile statistics, and elected officials at all levels exchange a few views, or even search the Internet with Google, they will have all the information they ever need. Whatever made them consider resorting to a live vote?

The Wu cabinet may say that government policies require prioritization. A top ten list of public grievances would help prioritize these grievances. This sort of thinking is not wrong per se. But one must not allow oneself to be misled. First of all, the government must have something to show in the way of improved cross-Strait relations, increased public confidence and civic pride, and more effective managment of the economy. If instead it turns administrative routine into a political football that requires the resolution of public grievances, it has gotten its priorities reversed. Secondly, if one looks at the "potential grievances" list, one sees "salaries have not risen" and "gasoline prices continue to rise." How will the Wu Cabinet deal with these? Thirdly, the voting technique itself may result in deviations from the norm, and bias the results. They may ignore or filter out the voices of many disadvantaged elements within society. Fourthly, when the government asks various departments to resolve items on this "hit parade of public grievances," it may well crowd out many routine administrative activities. It may well create new grievances.

If one examines the public grievances that have received the most media attention lately, most of them are minor matters. They include being towed for temporarily parking next to a yellow line, government agencies passing the buck, double standards for law enforcement, and overly strict urban planning standards. These are all a far cry from the 500 billion NT flagship program Premier Wu wants to address public grievances. Clearly public discontent focuses upon bureaucratic inconveniences and systemic injustices. Day after day, these grievances accumulate. Elimination of these grievances does not require spending a lot of money. All that is required is slight adjustments in attitude, or minor improvements in procedure. A closer look reveals that what angers the public the most is governmental injustice, aggravated by bureacratic indifference. Officials turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to problems right under their noses. These problems include a lackluster economy, low public morale, a failure to recover one penny from the Ah-Bian corruption case, years of police inaction in response to rampant telephone fraud, and an inability to catch the culprits responsible for long term damage to the environment. These grievances may not be on the top ten list. But who can say that they are not angry knots in everyone's gut?

Governance must put the public first. The administration's intentions are good. But addressing public grievances does not require spending a lot of money. It does not require making top ten lists. It merely requires addressing the attitudes of officials at all levels of government. Civil servants must be the first to demonstrate a spirit of service, and a willingness to address people's problems. That is the ultimate solution for the elimination of grievances . A record of political accomplishments cannot be created overnight. Grievances require measured solutions. Otherwise, the Wu Cabinet's 500 billion NT budget to address public grievances, could give rise to a public firestorm that merely provokes new grievances.

2009.11.27 03:04 am








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