Ma Government Must Abandon Its Lame Duck Mindset
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
October 20, 2015
Executive Summary: A timid government cannot lead the country. A cowardly cabinet cannot win respect. The Sunflower Student Movement routed the Ma government. Ma seems determined to ride out the rest of his term. Cabinet appointments and governance have stalled. As everyone knows, the election is a mere three months away. But the expiration of Ma's term in May of next year is a full seven months away. Does the Ma government intend to wallow in its lame duck caretaker mindset, waiting to step down, all that time? If so, is that not a black mark on democracy?
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The KMT, having replaced Hung Hsiu-chu as its presidential candidate, is in utter disarray. Within one short week, the Mao Chi-kuo cabinet and the Legislative Yuan, have shot the ruling KMT in the foot, on three separate occasions. First, the Council of Agriculture's (COA) revised regulations for farmland and new farmhouse construction met with fierce resistance from 17 blue camp legislators. Next, the Mao cabinet generously doled out supplementary premiums, sacrificing health insurance income in order to attract votes. Instead, it was blasted for it. Finally, the Minister and Vice Minister of Culture have clashed repeatedly over information leaks.
Why have spectacles such as these continued to unfold? For one reason alone. When a government no longer stands for any sort of ideals, what is there left for it to do than myopically pander to this or that special interest? As a result, officials have difficulty maintaining even rudimentary decorum. A lame duck or caretaker mindset is a vacuum. Individuals with such a mindset seek only to survive, one day to the next. Accomplishing anything is impossible. Governments with such mindsets put themselves on hold. Governance breaks down. Economic and social progress grind to a halt. The Mao cabinet currently displays just such a lame duck, caretaker mindset.
Take the reduction of supplementary health insurance premiums for example. In one fell swoop, the Executive Yuan increased withholding from 5000 NT to 20,000 NT. This was uniformly applied to dividends, interest, rents, and business income. This is flat out “policy vote buying” with an eye on election day. If funds in the treasury were adequate, if the health insurance fund was secure, such a change might benefit the public and warrant applause. Alas, this single change means health care expenditures will experience a 7 billion NT shortfall two years down the line. The Executive Yuan's magnanimity is consuming our seed corn, and undermining the National Health Insurance system.
Supplementary premiums were an important Ma government policy. It adopted a non-taxation approach to national health insurance, and helped make end meet. Some withholding provisions unduly squeezed low-income family income derived from moonlighting. These were later corrected by the Executive Yuan, restoring some measure of justice. But the upcoming elections have led to the dismantling of a hard-won system, on the assumption that voters will be pleased. In fact, the move may prove counterproductive and make people despise the government for its opportunistic short-sightedness.
In fact, supplementary premiums, capital gains taxes, and gasoline price and electricity rate hikes, were Ma government policies. Yet now, capital gains tax deductions have left the tax a hollow shell, subject to repeal at any moment. Gasoline prices and electricity rate hikes provoked widespread resentment, and led instead to price and rate cuts. President Ma watched his policies rejected one by one. How must he have felt? Did he wonder whether his original decision was too rash? Or did he wonder whether his administration simply lacked the necessary determination?
Now take the farmhouse construction issue. Over the last decade, ersatz “farmhouse” construction has seriously eroded arable land. Without revised regulations, much farmland will be gone forever. Taiwan's ecology will be affected. Seventeen blue camp legislators have joined forces to obstruct their passage. Whose interests are they really serving? Even more frustrating, the Executive Yuan immediately caved in to pressure. It said it "respected" the legislators' opinions, and asked the Council of Agriculture, the government, and legislators to “communicate”. Where is the Executive Yuan's backbone? It would have the COA fend for itself. The outcome can easily be imagined.
The KMT is the ruling party. Yet its record failed to inspire public support. Who is to blame? The DPP has engaged in endless obstructionism. But the public knows this. Ma government officials are namby pamby and timid. They have never argued their case in a dignified and reasonable manner. That is the main reason it failed to win the hearts and minds of the people. The DPP dreams about "total rule". In fact, the Ma government already enjoys total rule. So why is it bound hand and foot, unable to do a thing? For several reasons. One. Lack of will. Two. Low morale. Three. Inept political tactics. Four. Lack of talent. The first three reasons far outweigh the last.
Take the 2016 general election. If the ruling KMT hopes to turn the tide, replacing Hung with Chu is not enough. The Ma government must offer the people something tangible. But “tangible” does not mean little favors like lowering electricity rates and reducing the premium supplement. It means offering a newer and better vision for the future, one that fulfills peoples' expectations for social justice and moral principles. A single inspiring debate would enable the ruling KMT to soundly refute the opposition DPP's subterfuges. It would help win the hearts and minds of the people. Alas, the Ma administration offered no such response to Hung Chung-chiu incident demonstrators, Sunflower Student Movement members, opponents of the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant, and opponents of curriculum reform.
A timid government cannot lead the country. A cowardly cabinet cannot win respect. The Sunflower Student Movement routed the Ma government. Ma seems determined to ride out the rest of his term. Cabinet appointments and governance have stalled. As everyone knows, the election is a mere three months away. But the expiration of Ma's term in May of next year is a full seven months away. Does the Ma government intend to wallow in its lame duck caretaker mindset, waiting to step down, all that time? If so, is that not a black mark on democracy?
正當國民黨為換柱而焦頭爛額之際，短短一 周內，毛內閣和立法院又幫了執政黨三個倒忙：一是農委會重新規範農地興建農舍辦法，竟遭十七名藍委聯手力阻；二是毛內閣慷慨大放送鬆綁補充保費，犧牲健保 收入以創造選舉利多，卻飽受訾議；三是文化部部長、次長為洩密案內鬥不止，醜戲連連。
之所以不斷上演這些難看的戲碼，原 因無他，正是一個缺乏宏圖的政府胸中只剩下東討好、西敷衍的短期盤計所致；也因此，有時連官員的基本格調和官箴都難以維持。「過渡心態」是一種很虛無的情 狀，在個人而言，只想把日子混過去，一事難成；在政府而言，則是政務停頓、行政廢弛，讓國家社會發展陷入停頓。毛內閣目前所展現的，正是如此這般的「五日 京兆」心態。
以健保補充保費的全面減徵為例，行政院一舉將五千元的扣繳基準大幅提高到兩萬元，且對股利、利息、租金、執 行業務所得等一律適用。此舉，無非就是為了營造選舉利多，以換取選民的支持。如果今天國庫充裕、健保基金安全無虞，透過這樣的調整，還利於民，倒是值得大 聲喝采。問題是，經此一調，兩年後健保收支便要出現七十多億元的缺口；那麼，今天行政院的闊綽出手，豈非寅吃卯糧，挖全民健保的牆腳？
補 充保費是馬政府任內推動的重要政策，擷取了課稅之外的蹊徑，化解了全民健保入不敷出的窘境。其中，有一些有失允當的扣繳，例如低收入打工族兼差所得受到過 度壓榨；這些，行政院後來慢慢調整，還了他們公道。但今天，只因選舉在即，卻要將好不容易建立的制度拆解改裝，以為可以討好選民；其結果，可能適得其反， 使人民厭惡政府的投機短視。
事實上，除了補充保費，證所稅、油電雙漲也是馬政府任內大力宣揚的政策。事到如今，證所稅東 折西扣，只剩一個空殼子，隨時可能廢除；而油電雙漲則徒然激起漫天民怨，反而走上雙雙降價的背道而馳之路。馬總統看到自己的主張逐一遭到廢棄，不知作何感 想；是當初決策太過莽撞呢？還是整個執政團隊已磨光了志氣？
再談農舍的興建問題。近十幾年來，各地農舍的濫建嚴重侵蝕了 良田綠地，再不設法重新規範，不僅許多農田將一去不復返，台灣的生態環境也將崩壞變色。在這種情況下，十七名藍委卻還要聯手阻擋，他們究竟代表誰的利益發 聲？更令人扼腕的是，行政院面對這樣的壓力，竟然也就立刻矮了半截，聲稱「尊重」，並要求農委會繼續和朝野立委溝通。行政院的腰桿都不知道在哪裡了，卻要 農委會自己去力爭，結局如何自是可想而知。
身為執政黨，卻拿不出亮眼的執政績效來召喚人民支持，這應該怪誰？民進黨對政 府決策的處處掣肘，民眾並不是沒有看在眼裡；然而，馬政府官員的唯唯諾諾、畏畏縮縮，從來無法不卑不亢地將事理說個透徹，更是施政難獲人心的主要原因。民 進黨正在大談「完全執政」的美夢，但今天，馬政府不就是握有完全執政的優勢嗎，為何卻落得縛手縛腳，難以施展？其中癥結，一是意志薄弱，二是士氣低迷，三 是政治手腕拙劣，四是才能不足；而前三者的因素可能要遠大過最後一項。
面對二○一六大選，執政黨若要力挽狂瀾，光是「朱 上柱下」是不夠的，馬政府一定要拿出讓人民「有感」的作為才行。所謂「有感」，絕對不是像降電價、減補充保費這樣討好式的小恩小惠，而是必須在論述和境界 上有所開展，讓民眾覺得對未來有更美好的憧憬，覺得社會正義和人情義理受到了照顧。哪怕只是一次精采的辯論，執政者能鏗鏘有聲地駁斥了在野黨的遁詞，都有 助於贏得人心。這些，是馬政府歷經了洪仲丘事件、太陽花、廢核四、反課綱等運動後，似是再也看不到的情景。
一個畏怯的政 府不可能帶領國家，一個懦弱的內閣不可能贏得尊重。從太陽花學運後，馬政府就在一路退卻，彷彿只求安然拖過任期；也因此，內閣人事布局與施政作為都形同一 片死水。殊不知，目前距離大選雖只有三個月，但距離明年五月的任期屆滿還有七個月；如果政府早早就抱持「五日京兆」的心態等著下台，請問：這不是在羞辱民 主政治嗎？