Wed, Jan 22, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: A good start to spring cleaning

Keeping the cream and getting rid of the riffraff is what any government seeking efficiency should do. Even though the government has been neither speedy enough nor thorough enough with many of the political reforms it promised voters back in 2000, there have been some impressive recent steps. These include launching an investigation into the Kaohsiung City Council vote-buying scandal, penalizing five judges who had accumulated massive backlogs of cases and establishing the Taiwan-Tibet Exchange Foundation to handle relations with the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Key to the government's reform efforts have been its struggle to streamline and improve its bureaucracy. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs appears to have taken the lead among Cabinet agencies in overhauling operations.

The ministry has begun to use carrot-and-stick measures in evaluating the performance records of its overseas diplomats to encourage them to perform better. As a result, six directors of representative offices were rated grade B and at least one was given a C. Another who performed poorly was dismissed.

The ministry's actions deserve wholehearted support because if such a key agency remains fuzzy about rewards and punishments -- basing promotions and penalties on personal connections, not performance -- then employees will try to curry favor in order to protect themselves and morale will plummet. That such a state of affairs has existed in the ministry is evident, given the long-standing criticism that its people are only engaged in "internal relations" -- establishing personal connections and throwing big parties for legislators on their annual inspection tours. The ministry's mission of working for the country's interests and safeguarding national dignity often appeared to have been forgotten.

Taiwan's unique diplomatic situation means that its diplomatic personnel must work doubly hard. There must be a united diplomatic corps with high morale in order to fight against Beijing's efforts to isolate the nation. A recent reminder of this struggle was the cancellation of a trip to Thailand by a legislative delegation whose visit was blocked because of pressure from Beijing. This is not to mention the many times President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has been blocked in his travel plans and the fact that Taipei now has fewer than 30 diplomatic allies.

The foreign ministry should also evaluate how much work each embassy and representative office has done to promote the nation's interests. Such evaluations should then be reviewed as part of performance evaluations. One of the primary yardsticks should be what they have done over the year to push the nation's bid for UN entry. This would help concentrate the country's diplomatic resources and encourage the diplomats abroad to take concerted action to realize the goal of opening the UN door.

Shaking up the foreign ministry is a thankless job because there are so many traditions, habits and systems that need to be eliminated. Its internal factions and their struggles cannot be pacified in a short period of time. However, in kicking off the first round of reform, Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien (簡又新) has perhaps adopted an attitude of climbing a mountain knowing there are tigers on it. No matter how difficult the reforms will be, the government has taken the first step, a step that deserves a hearty applause from everyone.

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