Political Appointees Must Set An Example by Stepping DownChina Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 20, 2010
Judicial Yuan President Lai Ying-chao submitted his resignation several days ago, because three High Court judges were suspected of accepting bribes. Lai submitted his resignation because he must assume responsibility for the lapse in judicial discipline.
Some people say Lai should not resign. They say that the High Court judges may have taken bribes, but what does that have to do with the Judicial Yuan president himself? Some see the issue through partisan eyes. They accuse President Ma of forcing out the sole remaining yuan president appointed by a DPP administration. Some say Lai should stick to his guns, and see judicial reform through to the end. We cannot agree with these justifications. Officials today willing to resign their positions out of a sense of responsibility are as rare as hen's teeth. Judicial reform requires capable leadership. But a sense of honor is as important as ability. The political atmosphere is as important as judicial integrity. As we take stock of officialdom on Taiwan, we feel his resignation deserves commendation.
The integrity of political appointees has undergone a swift decline. Too many unspeakable scandals have erupted. Take Chen Tsung-ming for example. He too is part of the justice system. He had the effrontery to dine with Huang Fang-yen, a possible accomplice in the Chen Shui-bian corruption and money-laundering case. He refused to take a stand on the Discretionary Fund issue. Talking heads blasted him, but he refused to resign. He justified himself by repeating that "I must stay on to finish the job." Only when the Control Yuan threatened to impeach him, did Chen Tsung-ming feel obligated to resign. The rumors and controversies surrounding Chen Tsung-ming relate to him personally. The current judicial crisis involves only High Court judges, not Lai Ying-chao specifically. Compare the two justice system officials. The difference between the two should immediately become apparent.
Forty years ago, during the Chiang Ching-kuo era, a Suao Harbor fishing boat sank, drowning dozens of students. Then Minister of Education Chiang Yan-shi assumed responsibility and resigned. When a building on the Yuan Feng Senior High School campus collapsed and crushed several students, Huang Kuen-hui, then Bureau of Education chief also resigned. When aircraft belonging to the state-run China Airlines crashed, the Minister of Transportation was forced to resign. Insiders often joke that Lien Chan was lucky. When others served as Minister of Transportation, they were forced to step down in response to air disasters. But Lien Chan experienced smooth sailing all the way, For three long years, not one air disaster occurred. Air disasters are of course affected in part by airline safety procedures. But luck may play an important part as well. When political appointees are held responsible even for random events such as these, then of course Lai Ying-chao must be held responsible for judicial discipline. Of course Chen Tsung-ming must be held responsible for his personal misconduct. It is only right.
It is universally accepted that political appointees should assume responsibility for their policy failures. But just how does one define "policy failure?" If one is unable to implement a policy, or if a policy that has been implemented leads to disaster, officials can always blame bad weather, overseas economic factors, financial shocks, even sunspots. Allow us to use a metaphor to explain what we mean by responsibility. Think of a national government as a private company. A nation's political leader is the company manager. A nation's citizens are the company's shareholders. A whole range factors will determine the success or failure of the company, including a considerable element of luck. But regardless, the company's business manager must assume responsibility for the company's performance. Whether he turns out to be a hero or a zero will ultimately depend upon the success or failure of the company's operations. He cannot blame anyone else. A company manager must assume final responsibility. The same is true of a national government's political appointees.
During Chen Shui-bian's eight years in power, political appointees came and went regularly. Whether they remained in office or were given the boot depended entirely on President Chen's changing moods. Neither ability nor integrity mattered. Political appointees would pray desperately that nothing went wrong on their watch. They were paralyzed, afraid to do anything that might rock the boat. Two years ago, with the change in ruling parties, everyone assumed that the bureaucratic mindset that prevailed under the previous regime were a thing of the past. But during the past two years, cabinet members in more than one municipal administration have left observers dumbfounded. Apparently what the Ma administration wants from officials more than anything else is obedience. It care nothing about an official's judgment or ability. When problems surfaced, high-ranking officials with the Presidential Office and Executive Yuan find it hard to blame cabinet members, because cabinet members refused to do anything but carry out orders from their superiors. Given such an atmosphere, it is utterly unrealistic to expect political appointees to demonstrate backbone and behave responsibly.
Yuan President Lai Ying-chao assumed responsibility and resigned. Did he do so to bring the Republic of China's dysfunctional officialdom out of its slump? Whatever his motives, he set a positive example. Will judicial discipline be restored as a result of the current scandal? It is hard to say. But Lai's bold move deserves praise.