United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 17, 2016
Executive Summary: Controversy over the importation of food products from Japan's nuclear disaster area rages on. The ten public hearings have become venues for public protests. A dozen or so counties and municipalities, blue and green alike, have chosen to save themselves. They have asserted their autonomy and passed regulations prohibiting the importation of food products from Japan's nuclear disaster area. The DPP forced four green camp county and municipal leaders to issue statements expressing their agreement with the central government. But forcing these leaders to change their tune, hardly means that people have changed their minds. The Tsai government will not have its way in this matter.
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Controversy over the importation of food products from Japan's nuclear disaster area rages on. The ten public hearings have become venues for public protests. A dozen or so counties and municipalities, blue and green alike, have chosen to save themselves. They have asserted their autonomy and passed regulations prohibiting the importation of food products from Japan's nuclear disaster area. The DPP forced four green camp county and municipal leaders to issue statements expressing their agreement with the central government. But forcing these leaders to change their tune, hardly means that people have changed their minds. The Tsai government will not have its way in this matter.
The government's decision to allow the importation of food products from Japan's nuclear disaster area has provoked widespread protests for three reasons. First, there was insufficient administrative preparation. Neither the COA nor the Department of Health and Welfare presented convincing data and explanations. Second, its communications with the public were haphazard. Ten hearings in three days were purely pro forma gestures, utterly lacking in sincerity. Three, its decisions were made top-down, and issued in haste from the outside in. Government agencies had no idea how to respond. The result was bureaucratic “by the numbers” conduct that failed to address the issues.
Who was responsible for the hasty decision to allow the importation of food products from Japan's nuclear disaster area? Obviously it was not David Lee, Minister of Foreign Affairs. Nor was it Agricultural Commission Director Chen Chun-yen, who took offense and attempted to resign. No, it was high-level national security officials responsible for negotiations between Taipei and Tokyo, including of course President Tsai herself. Whether the lifting of the ban on food products was a quid pro quo for the sake of a “Soong Abe Meeting” is irrelevant. The government's decision-making was haphazard and rushed. It made huge concessions on food safety for the sake of diplomacy. It made these decisions behind closed doors, with no attempt to communicate with the public or seek its approval. How can the public possibly swallow them?
Premier Lin Chuan suggested two ways to deal with the protests at public hearings. First, increase the number of public hearings so that public opinions may be fully expressed, and second, investigate and prosecute "people wearing black" to protect the public and civil servants from threats of violence. These two approaches of course reaffirm the government's policy. But they will not resolve public doubts. The government's arguments for lifting the ban were riddled with holes, and constituted a grab bag approach. The test results conflated food products from nuclear disaster areas with those from non-nuclear disaster areas. Experts revealed these facts, making it difficult for the government to regain the public trust. Also, the government lacks the manpower to meet the rigorous challenge of food inspections. Claims to the contrary are exaggerated and cannot be trusted.
Compare the difficulties encountered during public hearings with yesterday's clash at the Legislative Yuan during labor law hearings. The problems were the same. The government can hardly blame “opposition party obstructionism” or "people wearing black". These were two distinct events. Both involved labor unions, social movements, and spontaneous grass roots dissent. The public and social organizations do not believe these public hearings were held in order to listen to what the people have to say. They realize that the government has already decided what to do, no matter what the people have to say. No matter what the people say, the government has no intention of changing what it will do.
The public realizes that the public hearings were merely bones thrown at them in order to placate them. They were pro forma gestures. This is evident from the fact that the Tsai government's major decisions have been top-down edicts. The "Policy Coordination Conferences" ostensibly enable the president to more effectively promote policy. Each week it finalizes decisions on long controversial matters. On the surface this appears “decisive”. But these party-government shindigs sideline essential discussion and communications. They ignore both general direction and specific details. Under the circumstances, the faster the president brings down the gavel, the sooner she prevents the Executive Yuan, Legislative Yuan, and even local governments from processing the information and arriving at their own conclusions. Think about it. If communication and coordination is lacking, even among government agencies, and policies emerged half-baked, how can people be expected to swallow them without question?
The reason blue and green county and municipal government heads have had the audacity to work together to halt the importation of food products from Japan's nuclear disaster area, is public opinion. It is why labor organizations blasted the Tsai government during Legislative Yuan labor law hearings. They know the Tsai government has sold them out. They know President Tsai has a soft spot in her heart for them. Moreover, the two issues clearly bear the imprimatur of Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP. A president who advocates a non-nuclear homeland has the chutzpah to demand the importation of food products from nuclear disaster areas. Labor organizations that support the DPP are now on the same page as the KMT. Under these circumstances, how can the government maintain the public trust?
As a further reminder, when President Tsai brings down the gavel during Policy Coordination Conference meetings, she should consider just how much the Executive Yuan, the Legislative Yuan, and the public are willing to swallow. Otherwise, when decisions are made at breakneck speed, one after the other, the government's recklessness may lead to unimaginable consequences.