Fri, Mar 08, 2002 - Page 17 News List

Newsmakers: Economics minister under microscope

FEELING THE HEAT The new Minister of Economic Affairs has been judged by many to be lacking a sufficient amount of experience to manage the nation's affairs

By Richard Dobson  /  STAFF REPORTER

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

Amid scathing criticism from oppositon and ruling party lawmakers regarding Christine Tsung's (宗才怡) competancy and calls for her resignation after only a month on the job, it goes without saying that newly appointed economics minister needs to ante up now and demonstrate whether or not she's capable of the task.

Tsung's remarkably poor performance before lawmakers during her first appearance at the Legislative Yuan earlier this week -- and her continuing failure to clearly explain the details of how she intends to make the economy "take off" within two years -- aren't inspiring much confidence in a nation that has endured a slowing economy for over a year.

Further clouding hopes that Tsung will rise to the task is her dearth of experience in participating in Taiwan's economic affairs on a national level, coupled with the political overtones behind her appointment by the DPP.

However, former economics minister and now Vice Premier Lin Hsin-yi (林信義) said the scope of responsibility the position entails make absorbing all the necessary information for running the ministry a daunting task.

"The ministry must manage industry, trade, investment, small and medium-sized enterprises, water, electricity, oil and gas and land development ... With such a wide scope of responsibility, to absorb all of this within, month is extremely difficult," Lin told lawmakers yesterday.

"Minister Tsung hasn't yet had time to learn all of the details of the ministry's briefs ... to be fair we should give her more time to understand Taiwan's economic situation."

Premier Yu Shyi-kun told law-makers earlier this week that Tsung might need between three and four months to get a handle on the job, helping to quiet some of the DPP voices that have called for Tsung's resignation.

Wang Tuoh (王拓), a leader in the DPP caucus, who a day earlier said he had lost confidence in Tsung and said she should step down, tempered his voice yesterday by saying he respected Yu's appraisal of the situation. However, "After three or four months, I will be taking a very serious look at what has transpired," Wang said.

Despite being named late last year as the world's 10th most powerful woman in international business by Fortune magazine and as a person to watch this year by the same publication in January, Tsung until now has had no experience in managing national economic affairs.

Having lived in the US for the better part of three decades, Tsung served as the finance director from 1982 to 1995 for the small city of Poway in California. She also served as president of China Airlines Co (華航) from July 2000 to January this year.

Although she is a close friend of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), Tseng denied reports that she and her husband, head of the First Commercial Bank (第一銀行) Jerome Chen (陳建隆) contributed funds to Chen's presidential campaign.

But according to Hsu Chen-ming (許振明), an economics professor at National Taiwan University, serving on the local council of a small town hardly prepares one for a position at a national level.

"Small, local financial problems have nothing to do with regional economic development or foreign trade and foreign investment problems ... it's totally different," he said.

Hsu doubts that even after three months Tsung will have proven she is up to the task. "She is not qualified for this job," Hsu said. "Tsung has had no experience with public administration on a national scale and she has remained abroad for a long time. I doubt that she is at all familiar with the function of the economics ministry."

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