Too Fat Cabinet Needs Slimming Down
China Times editorial
Taipei, Taiwan, ROC
February 20, 2013
Summary: The government has been undergoing restructuring for over a year. Prior to this wave of restructuring, the Executive Yuan Organization Law remained untouched for nearly six decades. But times have changed. Ministry business has expanded. The number of ministries has steadily grown to 37. Nominally the government still has only "eight ministries and two commissions." But overly complex and rigid government organizational structures long ceased to fulfill real world needs.
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The government has been undergoing restructuring for over a year. Prior to this wave of restructuring, the Executive Yuan Organization Law remained untouched for nearly six decades. The only change occurred in 1980, when the Ministry of Judicial Administration was renamed the Ministry of Justice. But times have changed. Ministry business has expanded. The number of ministries has steadily grown to 37. Nominally the government still has only "eight ministries and two commissions." But overly complex and rigid government organizational structures long ceased to fulfill real world needs.
Premier Yu Kuo-hwa began looking into governmental restructuring in 1987. Now, 26 years later, we have had 14 premiers. Last year the show finally took to the road. But we still have a long way to go before everything is in motion. According to the Executive Yuan, once restructuring is complete, the number of ministries will be reduced from 37 to 29. The number of Grade Three agencies will be reduced from 279 to 70 bureaus and departments. But such weight reduction programs notwithstanding, the government remains in the "obese" category.
The goal of restructuring is to cost reduction and performance enhancement. But the Executive Yuan's restructuring program increases the number of political appointees from 91 to 92, even though it reduces the total number of ministries. It increases the number of civil service positions from 162,792 to a 173,000, the maximum specified by the Central Government Total Personnel Law. The total number of civil servants will not necesssarily be reduced. According to the latest Ministry of Civil Service figures, last year the number of civil servants reached an eight year high of 345,861. Compare this to 2011, when the central government increased the number by 556.
Consider the system design. Current blueprints call for the establishment of an Environmental Protection Administration and a Ministry of Culture. It attempts to address the problem of non-unified authority. But too many political considerations remain. It still lacks a clear theoretical rationale. For example, it preserves the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission, the Veterans Affairs Commission, Council for Indigenous Peoples, and the Council for Hakka Affairs. But it downgrades the National Council on Physical Fitness, which is charged with ensuring the physical fitness of the nation, and places it under the authority of the Ministry of Education. It downgrades the Nuclear Energy Commission, which is charged with overseeing nuclear safety, from a Grade Two agency to a Grade Three Agency. It is difficult to see the logic behind these trade-offs.
Taiwan has a serious problem with aging population. Long-term health care is an important issue the government must face. Long term health care is currently the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior's social welfare system. But in the future the Ministry of Health and Welfare will be under the authority of the Department of Health, which is responsible for the health care system. The functions of the two agencies will be integrated. This represents by a significant change in thinking about long-term health care. When the Executive Yuan came up with its organizational structure, it was obviously not thinking clearly about future policy.
Restructuring will create several mega-ministries. These include the Environmental Protection Administration, which will be responsible for water resources, rivers, pollution, and national parks. The Ministry of Health and Welfare will be even more powerful. Almost everything having to do with "birth, aging, disease, and death" will be its responsibility. These agencies will more powerful, more obese, and less "flat." Their affairs will become more complex. They will become less responsive to the needs of those below. If government agencies engage in business as usual, as they did in the past, and pass the buck whenever they can, efficiency will be even lower than it was before restructuring.
Current restructuring fails to address outdated foundations, associations, and other government subsidized entities. It fails to review the poor performance of state-owned enterprises. It even fails to evaluate central and local government civil servants. As a result, central government restructuring has resulted in excess personnel who can neither be cut nor reassigned. The upgrading of the five municipalities to directly administered status touted promotions and "knighthoods." The number of posts increased by approximately 20,000. Budgets increased by 100 billion NT. As far as the general public is concerned, the restructuring has merely given civil servants a massive windfall. It has merely provided them with opportunities to advance their careers and line their pockets.
Restructuring is gradually being implemented. The attendant problems are gradually surfacing. The organizational structure remains uncertain. The multitude of agencies are fighting over funds, personnel, and positions. They are fighting over who gets upgraded. They are fighting everywhere, from the Executive Yuan to the Legislative Yuan. Once the organizational structure has been determined, everyone will sweep only the snow on their own stoop. They will not care who is supposed to be responsible for what. Take the GIO. It is being replaced by the Executive Yuan Spokesman's Office. Its only job will be to issue press releases and liase with the media. Medial liason over the national day celebration will be turned over to the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission.
Predictably, organizational restructuring amidst future organizational consolidation will be chaotic. The various ministries have problems communicating, both within and without. These problems have all surfaced, one by one. Restructuring labor pains have only just begun.
Restructruing is a continuous process of destruction followed by reorganization. It is akin to smashing a number of clay figurines and reshaping them into one. The process involves reorganization of existing structures, the placement of personnel, the simplification of decision-making, the reformation of an organizational culture. Every step must be executed correctly. Only then can one improve one's performance. Based on current plans, the scope of restructuring is too modest. Personnel have not been sufficiently streamlined. Goals remain fuzzy. Benchmarks remain unclear. In short, the government lacked ambition from day one. Naturally it was unable to offer a blueprint for the new government that would appeal to the public.
The condensation of the Taiwan Provincial Government 14 years ago failed to achieve its goals. Once the restructuring express train got moving, its sponsors should have monitored the plan. They should have indicated their targets. They should have ensured that every agency and every connection was in order. After all, if the final result does not lead in cost reductions and performance ehancements, then the entire restructuring process becomes a joke -- nay, a tragedy.