No More Joyless Cabinet Reshuffles
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 25, 2011
The Democratic Progressive Party, amidst a war of words, approved new procedures for its presidential and legislative nominations. They have already begun beating the drum for these two elections. The KMT meanwhile, continues to argue whether Wang Jing-pyng qualifies for "without portfolio" status. Nor has any solution has been found to the problem of party leaders who refuse to step up to the firing line. Premier Wu must reshuffle the cabinet. Under the circumstances, can he come up with an inspired arrangement?
We see little reason for optimism. Premier Wu Den-yih has mentioned reshuffling several times recently. Each time he conveyed a sense of pessimism. He displayed no signs of courage or ambition. When he spoke of the Ministry of Finance, he indicated that he was completely satisfied, and said the minister was doing a good job. "Wouldn't it be a contradiction to make changes?" When he spoke of civil service salary increases, he enigmatically said that would be the responsibility of "the next premier." Was that a declaration that any cabinet reshuffle would be minor? Was he himself awaiting a new appointment? Were his thoughts already elsewhere?
The Ma administration's approach to cabinet reshuffles over the past two years has been "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." For the most part, it has been passive, and engaged merely in fine-tuning. On the surface, one could say it was attempting to maintain administrative "stability" and "consistency." But the public has been dissatisfied with its policies. The ruling party has lost ground during recent elections. Cabinet appointments have placed too much emphasis on not making waves. The administration's response to public expectations has been slow and weak. Take the current reshuffling for example. Yang Chi-liang and Wang Yu-ting resigned. Kao Shi-po chose to run for the legislature. This leaves openings that must be filled. Premier Wu may not want to stir up the waters. He may be satisfied with the performance of his cabinet members. But 40% of the public is not. Has he thought about how to mollify them?
Last year the economy grew ten percent. Unemployment fell to five percent. The Ma administration has done well indeed. The results show. But the gap between rich and poor has also increased. Most people feel no joy from the economic recovery. The current wave of growth has been referred to as a "joyless recovery." The lack of joy is tricky. The government can say it is working hard. The numbers may look good. But most people do not feel good. So what are you going to believe? The numbers? Or your gut feeling?
The worst kind of cabinet reshuffle is this absent-minded sort of cabinet reshuffle. The government solemnly announces a reshuffle. But the vast majority of people see nothing happening of any significance. Two weeks ago, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan initiated a cabinet reshuffle. Public support increased, slightly. But 70% of all respondents still said they expected nothing worthwhile from the new cabinet. This shows the Japanese people are burned out on politics. If Premier Wu insists on clinging to an "I'm alright, Jack!" attitude, the new cabinet reshuffle is bound to become another round of "joyless reshuffling." It will merely invite public antipathy. The ruling party will miss a golden opportunity to boost the party's morale and improve its public image.
Frankly, those in power are often reluctant to reshuffle the cabinet, change its personnel, and eliminating the inferior. Why? Because they see members of the government as fellow team members. They do not see the machinery of government as a tool to serve the people. That is why they allow the unfit to hide among them. For example, the Minister of Finance has repeatedly been criticized by the public. Yet he continues to cling to his position. And thanks to the current economic recovery, he has even become a "fiscal genius." Another example is the GIO Chief, who was purportedly an expert on ECFA. But he seldom spoke out, and the time for him to explain ECFA is long over. Another example is the array of government officials who have no practical value. Is there really no need to reassign them? Are there really no better qualified candidates among the public?
When Chen Shui-bian was in power, the premier and his cabinet members were pawns on his chessboard. They could be sacrificed at any moment. This reflected the selfish behavior of a political manipulator. By contrast, President Ma has arrayed an army of appointees out on the chessboard, and not moved them for an eternity. The public has blasted them, but Ma refuses to budge, even an inch. He has been too hesitant. A leader must know when to hold, and know when to fold. He has lost the initiative a leader requires. Consider the recent reorganization of the Kuomintang. It resulted in a new formation, and resolved tensions within the party. The new team may not hit the ground running. But at least its immediate response is appropriate. The legislative and presidential elections will be tough battles. The nation needs innovative social initiatives. More importantly, Ma Ying-jeou's main strategy should be to reorganize his administration. He must aggressively reshuffle his cabinet. He must raise morale within the government. Only then can he win the hearts and minds of the people.
It is the custom to clean house every New Year. Premier Wu must clean house as well. He must clean up the mess in his cabinet. He must not tell us that good people are hard to find. He wields great power. It is his job to help the public find the right people, and not just fill seats. The 2012 showdown is imminent. Do not initiate another "joyless reshuffling." Do not go through the motions.