Ministry Blunders Undermine Re-election Campaign
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 10, 2011
Summary: During an election campaign, one need not gain ground. But one must never mindlessly lose ground. Recently the Executive Yuan committed one blunder after another. Premier Wu Den-yih is apoplectic. While he puts out fires in the front, more fires break out in the rear. How can he possibly run a successful re-election campaign under such circumstances? Wu is a vice presidential candidate. Making sure that all the hatches are battened down is his responsibility. After Wu's anger dies down the first thing he must do is identify the problem. Why have so many ministries committed so many blunders? Why has the cabinet been unable to put a cap on all these blunders? If this continues, the DPP will win without lifting a finger. KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou's bid for re-election will be sabotaged by his own people.
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During an election campaign, one need not gain ground. But one must never mindlessly lose ground. Recently the Executive Yuan committed one blunder after another. Premier Wu Den-yih is apoplectic. While he puts out fires in the front, more fires break out in the rear. How can he possibly run a successful re-election campaign under such circumstances? Wu is a vice presidential candidate. Making sure that all the hatches are battened down is his responsibility. After Wu's anger dies down the first thing he must do is identify the problem. Why have so many ministries committed so many blunders? Why has the cabinet been unable to put a cap on all these blunders? If this continues, the DPP will win without lifting a finger. KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou's bid for re-election will be sabotaged by his own people.
Some civil servants are troublesome. Some Executive Yuan officials have doubts about them. Just how many of these troublesome civil servants are opposition "moles?" Their suspicions are not entirely without justification. The Council of Agriculture recently canceled milk subsidies to poor children. But less than 24 hours later, it reversed its policy. Council of Agriculture Chairman Preston Chen said the subsidies were never canceled in the first place. Official documents were leaked even before they were submitted to the Livestock Production Section for approval. Deputy Chairman Hu Hsing-hua said the auditors considered this a social welfare measure that should be dealt with by social welfare agencies. But until an agreement can be reached, the COA is handling the matter.
The explanations offered by the chairman and deputy chairman left people baffled. First of all, the subsidies have been in place for some time. The auditors never objected to them before. Why reassign responsibility suddenly, just before the general election? Secondly, the documents were not even submitted to the chairman. Would a section chief really have the authority to make a public announcement? Would the chairman sit idly by and not intervene? One can scrimp everywhere. The only place one cannot scrimp is on little children, especially when they are underprivileged children. Does any civil servant in the Council of Agriculture not understand this? Once the matter blew up, the Council of Agriculture rushed to provide free milk to children, only to invite ridicule for its policy flip-flop. Why would it invite such abuse upon itself? What was the real motive?
The Council of Agriculture was not alone. The Ministry of Education prohibited romantic relationships between teachers and students. It prohibited cram schools from recruiting children under six. It prohibited smokers from becoming school principals. It made three blunders in a row, every one of them mindless. Strictly speaking, the Ministry of Education did not prohibit romantic relations between teachers and students. What it prohibited was teachers preying on students. Teachers who prey on students are investigated and prosecuted promptly under existing laws. Did the Ministry of Education really need this additional provision? A piece of paper did nothing to prosecute teachers who prey on students. It merely impugned the dignity of the teaching profession as a whole.
Children under six should not be prematurely subjected to the cram school environment. They should not be subjected to inordinate academic pressure. But this is the parents' business. Why must the Ministry of Education intervene? Why provoke parents who want their children to become movers and shakers? Why provoke the cram school industry? What was the real motive?
Not permitting smokers to become school principals is even more absurd. Anti-smoking measures on Taiwan are strict. Most schools have smoke-free campuses. No matter how addicted a school principle might be to tobacco, he is not about to defy the law by smoking where he shouldn't. If he did, he would photographed violating the smoking ban and reported by students or other teachers. The Ministry of Education would not even need to investigate. The principal would not have the cheek to stay on. One aspect of the provision is especially pointless. The prohibition against smokers becoming school principals was instituted in May. So why was it announced six months before the election? Was someone deliberately making trouble for Minister of Education Wu Ching-ji? Or more to the point, was someone deliberately making trouble for the KMT and the Ma/Wu ticket?
In addition to the Council of Agriculture and the Ministry of Education, we have the Council for Cultural Affairs (CCA). The CCA deftly organized over 300 events for the Republic of China centennial celebration, without so much as a hiccup. Yet it created serious problems for the National Day "Dreamer" musical production. The arts community blasted it. Netizens initiated an online petition drive demanding a refund. Whether the Dreamer was a good or bad production is one thing. Whether corruption was involved is another. The CCA was charged with producing the Republic of China centennial activities. It must respect the creators of cultural and creative content. It must not permit officials to write their own script. Doing so would lead to "painting by the numbers."
The budget for this National Day musical was substantial. Culture and creativity are priceless. From this perspective, one cannot say that the production was not worth the price tag. The problem was that the 200 million dollar budget was spent largely on stage props. Two days later, these stage props were burned. This was a bitter pill for the arts community to swallow.
The CCA wanted a musical production different from any in the past. That was understandable. The musical production was one of the two highlights of the centennial celebration. It is hard to find fault with the theater group contract awards. The New Year's Eve fireworks contract was awarded to Lin Hwai-min of the the Cloud Gate Dance Theater. Eleven other contracts were awarded. The CCA used open bidding and contract awarding procedures. Accusations of corruption are probably baseless. But was it really wise to hold a musical or theatrical performance outdoors? The venue consisted of nothing more than bare concrete. Was that really appropriate? That must be considered. CCA Chairman Emile Sheng feels aggrieved. But perhaps he should apologize for his lack of professionalism regarding the performing arts.
Political appointees have been blasted. The civil servants charged with the production may not have the proper attitude. But ministry heads cannot shirk responsibility. They could not even control their own subordinates. What right do they have to talk about management and leadership ability? Once a policy has been announced, the ministry head must assume responsibility. Beside, these ministry heads have been in office for over three years. They are familiar with the system of seniority. Yet they were led around by the nose by their subordinates. They can hardly blame "moles." They can only blame themselves.