Thu, Mar 14, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Bureaucratic bungling fuels crises

After he took office, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) declared that economic issues his government's top priority. But the financial and economic portfolios remain the Achilles' heel of Chen's government. The ministers and agency heads appointed in the latest Cabinet reshuffle are being criticized for not being up to snuff. The DPP has a shortage of financial and economic talent. But a more serious problem appears to be Chen and the DPP's inability to appoint technocrats capable of making policy, not just following precedents. The imbroglios caused by the current drought and the proposed migration of eight-inch wafer fabs to China are cases in point.

Policy questions aside, the economic ministry and its chiefs have failed to perform well, even in the policymaking process itself. For example, each December the ministry holds a meeting on water resources, compiles a report and then makes its forecasts and plans for water resources for the coming year. Last December, however, then minister Lin Hsin-yi (林信義) did not hold the meeting because of the impending Cabinet reshuffle. As a result, drought warnings from the Central Weather Bureau were overlooked. Lin's successor, Christine Tsung (宗才怡), says she wasn't informed during the handover about the water shortage -- although she didn't tell the legislature about that oversight until yesterday. Meanwhile, the ministry did not start asking the agencies to collect information on the drought until water shortages had become serious problems in the Hsinchu, Taoyuan and Miaoli areas.

The ministry has yet to come up with any contingency measures, or show that it is taking steps to prevent similar mishaps. It appears to be hoping that Mother Nature will intervene to solve the current shortage. But the ministry's negligence and slow decision-making left farmers in the lurch. They had already begun cultivating new crops before the ministry awoke to the extent of the drought, and naturally they want the water to bring those crops to fruition. If they are finally ordered to leave their land fallow, the water they have accumulated will be wasted and the cost for the fallow-land plans will rise.

So farmers are angry and so is the industrial sector. Big business is unhappy with the ministry's failure to ensure priority is given to industrial-use water -- thereby threatening the manufacturers that are the foundation of the nation's economy. While the anger builds, the ministry dithers.

The question of whether or not to allow Taiwanese businesses to invest in eight-inch wafer fabs in China is a very technical issue. Even though the principles of "active opening, effective management" cover the lifting of investment restrictions, a special task force has been commissioned to study the issue. It's report is due by the end of the month. However, Lin, as Vice Premier and chairman of the Council for Economic Planning and Development, has hinted that there may be an early announcement. Tsung has also told the legislature that, in terms of allowing investment in China, "the quicker the better." Such comments indicate that the government decided long ago to allow such investments. So the special task force is simply window-dressing.

Timing and correctness are equally important in decision-making. The government's economics team has failed to grasp the gravity of the problems facing it and has little control over the timing of decision-making. Lin and Tsung have demonstrated a lack of professionalism, a lack of judgement and administrative ineptness. Lin especially appears to have been somewhat negligent. They have done much to damage the image of the DPP's political appointees.

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