Damage Control Will Not Sooth Public Discontent
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
July 31, 2013
Summary: Seven cabinet heads have been replaced. Is that a lot? Perhaps. The real spotlight is on the Ministry of National Defense and on the reorganization of the FSC. With the former, Kao Hua-chu has stepped down to sooth public discontent over the Hung Chung-chiu case. With the latter, Chen Yu-chang has stepped down to sooth official discontent among the financial sector and other cabinet members. Both are Ma administration damage control efforts.
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Seven cabinet heads have been replaced. Is that a lot? Perhaps. The real spotlight is on the Ministry of National Defense and on the reorganization of the FSC. With the former, Kao Hua-chu has stepped down to sooth public discontent over the Hung Chung-chiu case. With the latter, Chen Yu-chang has stepped down to sooth official discontent among the financial sector and other cabinet members. Both are Ma administration damage control efforts.
Is soothing discontent the sole purpose of the cabinet reshuffle? Is the administration not fighting for some grander, more long range goal? If it is merely to win Brownie points, then at most it will stop the bleeding. Take the cabinet reshuffle. Seven cabinet heads have been replaced, yet the administration has won little praise if any. Clearly the new cabinet falls short of public expectations. If the Ma Chiang regime still hopes to turn the tide, it ought to be deeply concerned.
Take FSC Chairman Chen Yu-chang's resignation. Chen Yu-chang has been in office for over three years. His conservative manner provoked record dissatisfaction among the public and other cabinet members. But the system of tenure offered him protection. He was protected also because he was considered a Ma Ying-jeou crony. As a result, he survived the Wu Den-yih, Sean Chen, and Chiang Yi-hua cabinet reshuffles. He is currently being replaced only because the impenetrable shield around him was been nullified by organizational restructuring. What is truly mind-boggling is how on the eve of restructuring, five political appointees want Premier Chiang him to replace him. Forcing cabinet colleagues to tolerate a political appointee like him is unheard of. As the saying goes, "Inviting a person to enter is easy. Asking them to leave is difficult." That a political appointee who has incurred such wrath remains so pleased with himself is outrageous. An example like Chen Yu-chang is rare. But who appointed him to such an important position? Wasn't it President Ma?
Chen Yu-chang was not arrogant or difficult to communicate with. That was not his problem. His problem was his uttter failure to understand his official duties. Until the very last moment, Chen Yu-chang assumed he was fired because his strict supervision "offended too many people." In fact, his mistake was to conflate "supervision" with "management." He thought that by strangling financial institutions, he was doing his duty. The only thing in his head was the "management" powers in his hands. He neglected his duty to manage the government and promote the general welfare. He remembered only that industry needed management. He forgot the government's duty to create a suitable environment for e-commerce. His obstinacy stalled the Free Trade Zone Pilot Program over the issue of third party payments. To the financial industry this was intolerable. It stalled government decision-making and the development of new industries. .
Chen Yu-chang was too conservative and too recalcitrant. Kao Hua-chu's voluntary resignation was a responsible move, but not if the sole motive was to stop the bleeding. As Hung Chung-chiu family members said, Kao Hua-chu was not the wrongdoer. Having him step down was not important. What was more important, was a government explanation of what happened. According to conventional political wisdom, a political appointee who has provoked massive resentment must resign, as a matter of course. But as the public sees it, the rule has gradually been weakened. The government must get to the bottom of the case. If it thinks that merely removing the Minister of National Defense can sooth discontent, it is much too naive.
Leave aside the individual ministers' performance for the moment. The Ma Chiang regime is the target of public discontent because it failed to promote the general welfare. Instead, it constantly engaged in damage control. But these attempts at damage control will be for naught. The government focuses its attention on a protest here, and a grievance there. Senior officials spend their time in the countryside explaining basic policy. How can they find time for visionary thinking? How can they find time to plan for Taiwan's development? Imagine a business organization whose management is concerned exclusively with procedural matters, and which takes three years to get anything done. What kind of performance could one expect from it?
Chen Yu-chang's removal from office suggests that Chiang YI-hua's reorganization has more legitimacy than than ever. He deservers recognition for political responsibility alone. But Taiwan's economic development has stagnated. Public anger radiates in all directions. The Ma Chiang regime has yet to rid itself of internal frictions. Therefore this can hardly be considered "good news." This is especially true when any random development could trigger a public reaction. Only government restructuring can address this discontent. The introduction of an elite clique cannot change the course of events. In any event, such responses are much too passive.
New people and a new cabinet would normally warrant congratulations. But the negative atmosphere and the lack of vision have left people wary. We can only remind the government that it must demonstrate a sense of vision, and a determination to promote the public welfare. Only then can the public be persuaded. If the Ma Chiang regime remains mired in damage control, it will not even be able to save itself.
2013.07.31 02:17 am