Mon, Aug 15, 2005 - Page 8 News List

A drinking spree, or a sign of Ma's real flaws?

By Chin Heng-wei 金恆煒

After attending a meeting of the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) Central Standing Committee Meeting a few days ago, Taipei Mayor and party chairman-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) participated in a luncheon at the party's headquarters with retired generals, guzzling down booze in front of the TV cameras.

He then proceeded to drink a toast in kaoliang before hurrying to his next scheduled event, where, almost too drunk to handle himself, he repeatedly gave children money, as if he were tipping prostitutes in bar. Besieged by the media, Ma's drunken behavior was all captured on camera.

With Ma drunk during office hours, it is no wonder that his subordinates misbehave, as happened when a city mortuary employee died after he and a few colleagues skipped work on Aug. 6 to go wining and dining at a Taipei restaurant. Not only did this mortuary employee fail to report his absence from work, he even asked a colleague to punch in for him.

But this is not the most sensational part of Ma's exhibition of the "Drunken Mayor" style. Although he apologized to Taipei citizens on Aug. 12 and admitted that he had set a "bad example," there was one proviso -- Ma shifted the blame onto KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰), who had "entreated him to drink," saying it was difficult for him to refuse such an invitation. He also said that there were no alternative beverages available. Apart from implying that he could not be blamed for the incident, he tried to divert the issue to be merely about drinking alcohol.

But is all this only about drinking on the job? If it were, it may not have been such a big issue. What makes the whole incident interesting is that it tells us something more about Ma. He has nowhere to run to, and his problems are too many to count.

One of the problems is that Ma has put himself on the spot. He issued the ban prohibiting city employees from drinking on the job or on their lunch breaks. He has denigrated his own position by breaking this rule. He even excused himself by saying that it was "difficult to refuse the invitation." With such a mayor, it is all too easy to guess what his staff must be like.

A second problem is that he lied from beginning to end. He was clearly so drunk that he could no longer handle himself, but still he told the media that, "I've had something to drink, but I'm not drunk."

That may be of little import, but he altogether avoided mentioning his own drinking ban. Not until things became more serious did he change his story and offer an apology. This is how he does things most of the time.

A third problem is that Ma's city government is devoid of discipline. From the day he took office until today, 357 people have been disciplined for drinking on the job, and we have no way of knowing how many have been lucky enough to slip through the net.

The city government isn't merely suffering from a loose screw or two, the whole structure is coming apart. They cannot even enforce a simple "drinking-on-the-job" ban, with the mayor himself imbibing to his heart's content. It wouldn't be very surprising if the whole city government took to drinking.

The fact that Ma was forced to issue a drinking ban after less than two years on the job shows him to be a bad leader; the fact that he issued the ban but fails to enforce it shows him to be a bad administrator.

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