Fri, Mar 08, 2002 - Page 12 News List

Officials shouldn't ignore the small stuff

By Chen Ro-jinn 陳柔縉

It has finally become possible to glean something about Premier Yu Shyi-kun's political style from the few weeks he has been in office.

One day before he formally assumed the premiership, he demanded that Cabinet members sign an "executive team pledge" to promote simplicity in government. Later, he made a point of issuing an order to government agencies to practice thrift, instructing them not to provide fruit or snacks for meetings and or pay more than NT$6,000 per table on government banquets. Some officials have laughed at Yu's order, saying he was tinkering with minor issues while ignoring major issues. With the nation in a recession, however, the people of Taiwan are comforted by the premier's apparent empathy for them. His moves are also having a growing, and invisible, political impact.

The late president -- and former premier -- Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) once gave a speech to his staff in Ganan, Jiangxi Province, in which he said, "We [government officials] must hear the people's voices and understand their pain in order to relieve their suffering."

As the legendary Three Kingdoms-period strategist Zhu-ge Liang (諸葛亮) said, "A wise king has to see even the smallest things and to hear even the quietest voices. It is useless for us to see only the brightness of the sun and the moon, and hear only the loud thunder." Chiang's speech, given some 60 years ago, still touches us today. He won the people's hearts by making us feel that he was with us throughout our suffering. His sensitive observation of what really concerns people was a great credit to him.

Few of Chiang's successors as premier have captured the people's hearts with their sincerity. It is not that they were unaware of the people's pain and suffering, but rather that they did not work on the ostensibly minor issues that were of great concern to the people. How many people still remember the 12 Key Infrastructure Projects drawn up by Lien Chan (連戰)? Not nearly as many, I suspect, as remember how his image was ruined by his daughter's lavish wedding and his NT$500 boxed lunch. The explanations he later gave in various books only served to reinforce the view that he was completely detached from the public.

A German friend once told me he got the impression touring Taiwan that the people talk about money and making money all day long. I can't deny, indeed, that people in Taiwan attach great importance to money. For that reason, political matters involving financial issues are particularly sensitive.

When Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) was president, he was criticized for playing golf -- an exclusive sport in Taiwan -- and ignoring the calls of the people. PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) won the people's hearts by claiming to be whiter-than-white and saying that he couldn't even afford to fix the door of his mother's bathroom. But opinion changed after his family's assets in the US were uncovered.

As I sat in a taxi a few weeks ago, I happened to hear a radio report about the assets of government officials. The quiet, young taxi driver gave a deep sigh and fell silent after hearing about the hundreds of millions of dollars of assets owned by our government officials, his reaction betraying his surprise, confusion and anger.

A politician's image is seldom built on major issues. Lee built his on the promotion of democratic reforms. But other politicians usually don't have such opportunities. Their images are built or eroded by all manner of little things. Minor issues are not necessarily unimportant and major issues are not necessarily significant. A talented politician, therefore, does not confine himself or herself exclusively to major issues.

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