Sun, Aug 08, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Government must be streamlined

By the Liberty Times editorial

The nation's democratic development over the last decade or two is enough to make us proud. But reforming the government does not stop with establishing a democratic system and putting in place measures to maintain public order and social welfare. It must also include improving administrative efficiency. Put another way, a modern democratic government must encompass three aspects: democracy, social justice and administrative efficiency.

The country has already seen significant achievements with democratic reform and the implementation of measures to ensure public order and social welfare. But with respect to administrative efficiency, its record is quite poor. The government has done a particularly bad job on downsizing public agencies and personnel in recent years.

The administration of former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) put a lot of effort into achieving the goals of streamlining the government and reducing staff. In addition to sidelining the National Assembly and amending the Constitution, his government also made appointments to the Control Yuan dependant on approval from the legislature, thereby boosting the position of the legislature.

In reforming the hierarchy of government agencies, his most important action was freezing the Taiwan Provincial Government. Even though it continued to exist, this level of government -- whose responsibilities overlapped significantly with those of the central government and whose existence within the structure of government administration caused considerable delays -- was reduced to a non-entity.

In political terms, reform of the central government presaged the arrival of an era of democratic government, and was also a major step toward rationalizing and simplifying government.

This heavy burden of bureaucratic agencies and personnel, which had the potential to cause conflict between the central and local governments, could be simply made to disappear through the expedient of freezing the provincial government, creating a small and efficient administrative structure. With this action, the government should have been able to cut tens of thousands of jobs for savings of hundreds of billions of NT dollars. This would have been a model of administrative reform.

But surprisingly, after years of such reform, no results can be seen from the rationalization process. The government's personnel expenditure has not been reduced and in fact continues to be unbearably heavy. Under such a great financial burden, the government frankly has little room to extend its administrative effort.

Recently, the Liberty Times published a special report on how massive bureaucratic costs were harming the government's ability to perform its functions. In this report, we were surprised to discover the proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) and of the government budget consumed by personnel costs.

If we look at this year, total spending by the central government was NT$1.61 trillion (US$47.3 billion), of which NT$416 billion, or 25.8 percent of budgetary spending, was used to pay personnel. Compared to most developed nations, this is high. According to government statistics, personnel costs accounted for 26.4 percent of total central government spending in 2002. We can see from this that one-quarter of expenditure on personnel has now become normal.

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