Tue, Nov 26, 2002 - Page 10 News List

Financial-sector reforms must go on

GOVERNMENT IN CRISIS If anything good has come out of last week's turmoil, it's that more people have realized the importance of cleaning up credit cooperatives

By Joyce Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Although Minister of Finance Lee Yuan-san (李庸三) has resigned to shoulder political responsibility for the government's stalled efforts to improve the performance of debt-ridden credit unions, reform in the sector should not be delayed, pundits said yesterday.

"Without a healthy banking sector in place, Taiwan's economy will not be revived," said TSU Legislator Eric Wu (吳東昇), who is also chairman of Taiwan Securities Group (台證).

Comparing the ongoing financial reforms to the human cardiovascular system, Hsieh Chin-ho (謝金河), president of Win-Win Weekly (今周刊), said that Lee's successor should follow through the reforms "without any bargaining, otherwise, Taiwan will be like an ailing patient with clogged veins."

Ever since Lee's resignation last week, local markets has speculated that the DPP administration's financial reforms would slow.

But the outgoing minister yesterday defended his policies, saying a misunderstanding triggered a rift between regulators and the private sector.

"I have no regrets and have done all that needs to be done," Lee told reporters while returning to his office to pack yesterday morning on the first day of an unscheduled one-week leave.

Lee, however, offered no opinion on the premier's possible choice for his replacement.

The new minister should be equipped with not only financial expertise, but also seasoned political skills to be capable of handling pressure and opposition, Hsieh said.

Local Chinese-language media is speculating that Lin Tzong-yeong (林宗勇), 51, chairman of International Commercial Bank of China (ICBC, 國際商銀), Sean Chen (陳沖), 53, chairman of the Taiwan Stock Exchange (TSE, 證交所), and Minister-without-portfolio Hu Sheng-cheng (胡勝正), 62, may be front-runners for the post.

The three, however, denied the speculation yesterday.

While praising Lee's contribution to financial reforms, Hsieh added that both former vice finance ministers Lin and Chen are suitable choices given their experience in financial and political affairs.

Also stressing the importance of reforms, William Bryson, chairman of the capital markets committee at the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei, said yesterday that, a banker should take up the position of finance chief, since a major focus will be on cleaning up the banking sector's huge non-performing loan (NPL) mess.

While Taiwan is currently a hot NPL market in Asia, Bryson said that China's NPL market -- estimated at over US$480 billion -- is also a potential target for investors.

Taiwan's total NPL market is valued at NT$1.43 trillion (US$42 billion) -- 10 times smaller than that of China's.

"Because if the China market ever opens up, that will be a distraction to investors who are bidding on auctions here in Taiwan. China may draw the same group of investors over," said Bryson, who is also a legal consultant at Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue (眾達法律事務所).

In addition to financial and political clout, Huang Da-yeh (黃達業), a professor of finance at National Taiwan University, said that the new minister should also have expertise in tax reforms and be a good coordinator between the public and private sectors.

If the Financial Supervisory Board can be set up soon, the task of financial reforms should be left to the board's chairman while the finance minister should only be charged with governmental budgeting and financing tasks, he said.

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