Tue, Mar 26, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Less talk, more action

Going on a diet is never easy. Making the resolution to trim down is one thing, carrying it out is another. This is especially true of bureaucracies. For more than a decade, the government has been dithering about slimming down. Now it has finally come up with a plan to reduce the number of Cabinet-level agencies by about a third, from 35 to 22 or 23. While the Executive Yuan's draft proposal demonstrates a praiseworthy determination to streamline, it looks as if there is still some fat left to trim.

Why not incorporate the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? The commission is a historical relic from the early days of the ROC. It was set up by Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙) to take care of overseas Chinese, who provided so much support for his efforts to overthrow the Ching dynasty. After the KMT relocated to Taiwan, the commission played a prominent role because overseas Chinese communities became the focal point of the ROC government's anti-communist activities, as it struggled with Beijing for the hearts and minds of the Chinese diaspora. But times have changed and incorporating the immigration and other services the commission provides to overseas Chinese into the foreign ministry will unify the operational command and prevent policy disparities.

The Council of Hakka Affairs, the Council of Aboriginal Affairs and the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission should be merged into one commission for the development of ethnic minorities. The Hakka and Aboriginal councils were created to make good on President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) campaign promises to take care of minorities. However, Taiwan has more minorities than just the Hakka and Aborigines. If a Cabinet-level agency were to be set up for every one, it would be counter-productive to the streamlining efforts. An ethnic groups development commission would be able to coordinate the development of each minority group while still demonstrating the government's respect for minorities.

Why not merge the Veteran Affairs Commission into the Ministry of National Defense? The commission was set up to take care of the soldiers who came to Taiwan along with the KMT government. As that generation of war veterans dies off, there will be a reduced need for special programs for them. Providing for the employment of decommissioned soldiers and the recruitment of reserve troops overlap with the defense ministry's own programs, so a merger would be another step toward greater simplicity and efficiency.

However, agency mergers only scratch the surface of government reform. A thorough streamlining means reducing personnel, integrating agency functions and improving efficiency. If this is not done, then the current reform drive will prove as much of a shambles as the downsizing of the Taiwan Provincial Government. Vigorous opposition from the provincial government limited that downsizing attempt to a mere facade. In the end, there was still too little improvement in efficiency and too many people on the payroll.

The governments of Japan and China have both recently undertaken large-scale streamlining programs. After enduring painful reform periods, both are beginning to see positive results. Two previous efforts by the Cabinet to get the Legislative Yuan to amend to the Executive Yuan's organizational laws failed in the face of the enormous political obstacles placed against them. The Taiwan government has consistently received poor ratings for its efficiency, both from its own citizens and the international community. It is time for the government to stop talking about the need to streamline and improve operational efficiency and just do it.

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