Premier Chiang: Assume Responsibility to Advance Policy
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
August 1, 2013
Summary: The cabinet reshuffle has impacted seven officials. It qualifies as a medium scale reshuffle. The focus has been on the Defense Minister and FSC Chairman. The reshuffling has been heated, but the response lukewarm. The reason is not hard to see. First, the reshuffle was largely a passive reaction, not an act of initiative. Secondly, problematic cabinet leaders may have been replaced. But expectations aside, the crux of the problem -- long-standing defects and wide-ranging difficulties, make reforms daunting. They have yet to be tested.
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The cabinet reshuffle has impacted seven officials. It qualifies as a medium scale reshuffle. The focus has been on the Defense Minister and FSC Chairman. The reshuffling has been heated, but the response lukewarm. The reason is not hard to see. First, the reshuffle was largely a passive reaction, not an act of initiative. Secondly, problematic cabinet leaders may have been replaced. But expectations aside, the crux of the problem -- long-standing defects and wide-ranging difficulties, make reforms daunting. They have yet to be tested.
The personnel changes have stopped the bleeding, soothed discontent, and limited the damage. Therefore there is little incentive to make a larger breakthrough or assume greater responsibility. As a result, the entire cabinet is merely reacting to developments and pandering to public sentiment. It is trapped within a mental prison of its own making. The government's ruling principle is to avoid provoking public discontent. It is no longer to discern whether grievances are large or small, warranted or unwarranted. It is even less able to distinguish between government responsibility and government authority, and the burdens leaders must bear. The government has an even bigger blind spot. When true discontent spills over, the government often fails to perceive the problem. It fails to address the problem. It procrastinates until the problem explodes in its face, and gets totally out of control.
This is currently the Ma Chiang regime's biggest blind spot. Many of the government's policies and achievements are positive and far-reaching. They include the improvement of cross-Strait relations, ECFA, and TISA. But the government has failed to highlight them and win recognition for them. It has failed to promote them, communicate them, and the public on them. The governments has found it difficult to trumpet its cabinet leaders' initiative and accomplishments. Its accomplishments have been underplayed. Its failures have been overplayed. The entire cabinet is lifeless. Its approval ratings are low.
But let us be fair. Compare this to authoritarian era imperiousness. Their orders had to be carried out, or else. In today's democratic society, even populist cabinet chiefs find the going harder and harder. No wonder people joke about how "officials can barely get by." Cabinet recruitment is increasingly difficult. This anomaly is a vicious circle. The entire government, specifically President Ma, is overly cautious and indecisive. He has steadily diminished the authority of the head of state. The wind blows, and the grass bends. His appointment of the premier and cabinet ministers have shown excess deference to populist sentiment. He panders to public opinion. Avoiding mistakes outweighs making breakthroughs.
Another anomaly is the willful conduct of "independent authorities." They have transgressed executive leadership team norms. They have raised public concern over quid pro quo media deals. Parties to trades must make declarations, undergo review, and conduct business in accordance with the law. The NCC must approve or reject them in accordance with the law. Yet the NCC stonewalled, motivated by political considerations or indifference to illegal conduct. The interests of law-abiding citizens were harmed. The President and the Executive Yuan ignored these shenanigans. The administration was essentially a runaway train. Another example was FSC anti-corruption measures, intended to ensure the separation of media and money. In principle local shareholders were favored over Mainland capital. In practice select businesses and consortia were favored over all others. Internet firms were concerned about third-party payments. The financial industry was concerned about Free Trade Zone Pilot Programs and favorable liberalization policies. These were repeatedly obstructed. The prime culprit was a trusted President Ma lieutenant. How can this not lead to public resentment and an official backlash? This was a major blow to President Ma's leadership and prestige, and to the cabinet's morale.
The Taiwan Region of the Republic of China has held democratic presidential elections for the past 17 years. After Lee Teng-hui was elected, Premier Vincent Siew served for four years. This was considered a long premiership. Under Chen Shui-bian and Ma Ying-jeou, the average term for premiers was between one year two months, and one year four months. It differs little from Japan, with its rampant turmoil. As we can see, "short-lived cabinets" have become the norm. Breaking this pattern will not be easy. But the power of the legislature is growing. The Legislative Yuan must demonstrate greater finesse when dealing with party politics and party to government operations. Only then can cabinet policy be more robust. This is definitely worth the effort.
Over the past two sessions, the legislature has tackled many problems. They include U.S. beef imports, gasoline price hikes and electricity rate hikes, and the capital gains tax. The administration and the ruling party have not always been on the same page. Never mind the Party Chairman. The Party Secretary-General appears to have no role. Nor do the policy committees and working committees. When the three broadcasting industry laws were amended, the policy committees, the legislative caucuses, and the party whip each went their own way. They parroted the DPP version of the bill, passing it with whirlwind speed. When deliberating major bills, they sought credit for reform, but were simultaneously fearful of the political backlash. Ma's position was often ambiguous and unclear. The presidential office, the executive, and the party were forced to play guessing games. As a result, chaos reigned as they each went their own way. Cabinet policy has been totally disrupted. The Ma government has been blasted for incompetence.
Chiang Yi-hua has been blamed for a long list of problems. They include the Hung Chung-chiu case, The Ta Pu demolition and relocation case, TISA, rabies, and the Referendum on the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant. He has been blamed, justly or unjustly. His approval numbers are low. But he is knowledgeable about political science. He has convictions. He has a solld performance record in the cabinet. Many still have high hopes for him. They hope his cabinet members will do well. They wonder why as soon as he was made premier, things went wrong. The most important thing is that President Ma allows cabinet ministers to do their jobs. The entire cabinet must feel a sense of responsibility. They must change passivity into activity. They must ensure party-administration coordination. They must reform the government. Only then can they rise above today's "soy vat culture," in which officials seek to avoid blame instead of reaching goals.
社論－評析內閣改組 系列3 期勉江內閣─首長有擔當 政策能主動