Wed, Jan 12, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Is Ma Ying-jeou out to lunch?

Media darling (and Taipei Mayor) Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) seems to be having a little bad luck of late. Last week, a planned visit to Hong Kong for city-to-city diplomacy came to nothing because the Hong Kong government refused to issue a visa. On New Year's Eve, a woman caught her hair in an MRT escalator, inundating the mayor with bad press. Then, early on Monday morning, Taipei hospitals refused admission to an infant girl who had been mistreated.

The issue that seems to have most concerned the public is Ma's disciplining of MRT officials over the escalator incident. Because MRT staff at the station in question had not implemented crowd-control measures, five women were injured when the crush overpowered them. The most seriously injured woman had most of her scalp torn off after her hair was caught in the escalator.

Five days after the accident, Taipei Rapid Transit Corporation (TRTC) general manager Tsai Hui-sheng (蔡輝昇) showed up on TV trying to avoid responsibility over the matter. Three days after that, the TRTC was forced to release a surveillance video that shows a sea of people standing on an MRT platform but no staff performing crowd-control duties.

At a press conference on Monday, Taipei Deputy Mayor Yeh Chin-chuan (葉金川) argued that Tsai is a competent professional and should not be forced to step down as a result of a single accident. He said a major demerit should be sufficient. Hearing this remark, one can only recall the time when President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was Taipei mayor and how he dealt with similar incidents. On one occasion, Chen's right-hand man and spokesman, Luo Wen-jia (羅文嘉), resigned immediately over an accident in a tug-of-war contest he had organized in which a contestant had an arm torn off. Ma should be embarrassed and ashamed that his officials do not have a similar sense of responsibility.

In any case, it seems that media outlets do not share Yeh's high opinion of Tsai. Serious accidents over the last two years involving the MRT include two derailments, 500 people injured on escalators, gas leaks on the Tamsui Line and systemic fare evasion by staff. So it is still an open question whether Tsai is the "management guru" that Ma and Yeh say he is, and the Control Yuan is about to have its say on the matter.

Such incidents are not unusual these days. The public has now been presented with a case of hospitals under the city government's administration refusing to admit an infant who had been a victim of domestic abuse. The child, still in critical condition, had to be taken to Taichung instead, resulting in a delay that could only have increased the suffering.

These things are happening in what is supposed to be Taiwan's best-equipped city, so the question has to be asked: What is going on with Ma's people?

Since Taipei calls itself an international metropolis, management of city affairs should meet international standards. The most important basis of this is administrative transparency, accountability and discipline.

From the bird-flu scare last year to this recent spate of incidents, the city government does not seem to have learned very much. These failures point to a growing crisis in confidence in Ma's ability to lead.

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