Tuesday, January 18, 2011

From Water Spinach to the 18% Interest Rate

From Water Spinach to the 18% Interest Rate
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
January 18, 2011

The DPP touched off a conflagration over the 18% interest rate issue. But the winds changed direction, and they wound up accidentally burning Chairman Tsai Ing-wen. The Green Camp accused the Ma administration of attempting to undermine Tsai Ing-wen's presidential bid. But its conspiracy theory is patently ridiculous. It is truly regrettable that the underlying issue has been lost amidst the 18% interest rate controversy, and increased social confrontation for no good reason. The DPP passed up a golden opportunity to win a debate through appeals to reason.

The underlying issue has been derailed because amidst the melee, the ruling and opposition parties lost their heads. They lost the ability to contemplate the problem and solve the problem. When the DPP was in power, it knew perfectly well the 18% interest rate problem could be solved. DPP legislators were among those who amended the new law last July. But they suddenly did an about face and fanned the flames of controversy. They deliberately lied. They demonized military personnel, civil servants, and teachers. They indiscriminately blasted away. As a result, Tsai Ing-wen and a number of Green Camp elders caught stray bullets. The free for all artillery barrage resulted in friendly fire casualties.

The Democratic Progressive Party blasted the 18% interest rate. Their own party chairman became collateral damage. This is reminiscent of the Green Camp's previous campaign against the Flora Expo. It undermined Su Tseng-chang's election prospects in Taipei City. It too was the result of a loss of focus. It too was the result of a lack of proportionality. Green Camp city council members demagogued the Xinsheng Avenue Overpass scandal. They tried to characterize the Flora Expo as rife with corruption. They attempted to smear the entire Flora Expo over 500 NT bunches of water spinach. They got the public all worked up, over nothing. Now, looking back, we can see that the allegations were completely groundless. They merely revealed the DPP's viciousness. They object was not really to expose corruption. In the end, apart from benefitting a small number of extremist city council members, what did it do for the public?

The 18% interest rate controversy involves a number of related issues, with far deeper social implications than water spinach. They deserve to be explored in greater detail. But the DPP persists in raking muck, rattling its sabers, and demonizing military personnel, civil servants, and teachers, It has no intention of introducing more clarity to the problem. It is making no effort to seek a more socially acceptable solution. In fact, the 18% interest rate provision has undergone repeated revisions over the past 20 years. It no longer bears any resemblance to its original form. Besides, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party was once faced with the same problem. It chose to leave the problem untouched and intact. Today, when the DPP engages in the same old finger-pointing, their efforts merely boomerang. People naturally ask, "So why didn't you take care of it while you were in office?"

Does the DPP wishe to be rational? If so, it should focus on reforming the "income replacement rate." It should underscore the gap between the income replacement rate for labor on the one hand, and civil servants and teachers on the other. It should highlight the need to review retirement benefits for civil servants and teachers. That is more likely to resonate with the public. But the DPP is incapable of jettisoning its outdated mindset. It finds it easier to demonize the 18% interest rate. It is incapable of adopting new modes of thought. It persists in playing the same old 18% interest rate card. As a result, whenever it encounters an underprivileged, low income bracket civil servant, their rhetoric falls on deaf ears. Also, the DPP persists in wallowing in its own moral righteousness. It equates opposition to the 18% interest rate with being on the side of truth and justice. Who knew that once the curtain was pulled back, the person sitting in the hot seat would be their own party chairman.

The problem with the DPP is its addiction to demagoguery. The problem with the KMT is its unresponsiveness, procrastination, and passivity. The new law has addressed the problem of "fat cat high officials, thin cat low officials." But it has saved only 100 million in expenditures. Meanwhile, it has muddied the waters, for no good reason. This was the trade-off. Such "reform" is a misnomer. During the debate, the Examination Yuan and the Executive Yuan were unable to explain the issues. Instead they shot their mouths off, adding fuel to the fire, provoking public outrage. Any benefits were outweighed by the losses. Suppose the original version proposed by the Examination Yuan had taken public perception and social justice into account? Suppose it had incorporated the "exclusion of the wealthy" clause into its design? Wouldn't it have been met by far greater public approval? Suppose the Ma administration had considered the times we live in and changes in the financial burden? Suppose it had calculated the income replacement rate in advance? Would it have provided its opponents with so many pretexts for criticism? Would it have turned so many military personnel, civil servants, and teachers into live targets?

One melee has followed another. The ruling and opposition parties must learn from the experience. They must change the way they debate the issues. Only then can they lead democracy on Taiwan out of its cycle of hatred, and its abyss of confrontation. The opposition DPP must forsake its practice of smears, mockery, and epithets. It must adopt a clearer, more purposeful, more specific, and more constructive manner of debate. Only then can it win for itself greater public approval. The ruling KMT must abandon its bureaucratic status quo mentality. It must become more sensitive to public sentiment, more responsive to change, and more open to criticism. Only then can it rid itself of its reputation of being indifferent to injustice.

President Ma called for "excluding the wealthy" from the 18% interest rate program. The Green Camp blasted him. This unwittingly conferred upon Ma Ying-jeou the image of a "reformer." Their words showed they were in a funk. Their logic showed that the problem was in their heads. If the opposition DPP had been the ones to point out the problem, they would have boasted, "We did it all for Taiwan." But when the ruling KMT implements the very same policy, why can't the DPP simply say it was the result of a joint effort? Why worry about who came out ahead? The crown of victory should adorn the heads of the people. Only that makes sense. Preoccupation with winning or losing, is merely the way politicians think. .

【聯合報╱社論】 2011.01.18









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