Thu, Jan 26, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Plea of poverty a tough sell

It has been less than six months since Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) assumed the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairmanship, and in that time the party has sold the Institute of Policy Research and Development, Chunghua Open Hospital and three media outlets, earning more than NT$14 billion (US$437.7 million). Despite those sales -- and ignoring questions about the origins of some of the assets -- the party is pleading poverty.

On Tuesday Ma announced that the KMT is in "extremely dire financial straits" and could not pay its employees their year-end bonuses.

The party backtracked late on Tuesday night and announced that it would pay bonuses amounting to half-a-month's salary -- thanks to a front page story in the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times' sister newspaper) -- sometime next month. While KMT union director Liu Chien-sung (劉建崧) gave the Liberty Times full credit for helping the party's workers by exposing the KMT's original no-bonus plan, the question on the minds of KMT employees and many others is: "Where did all that money go?"

That is the first question that Ma should be made to answer. The second question is if Ma, who prides himself on being a party reformer, can't resolve the KMT financial puzzle, then why should anyone believe that he is either willing or able to clean up the party's stained reputation by eradicating its "black gold" problem?

Maybe the party really does have financial difficulties. KMT spokeswoman Cheng Li-wen (鄭麗文) said that the profits earned by selling the institute, the hospital and the three media outlets hardly covered the party's expenses. But doesn't the party owe its employees a full explanation, rather than treating them like three-year-old children? After all, in a bid to reduce the party's personnel expenses, more than 450 staffers have also been asked to retire after the Lunar New Year.

Yet it is business as usual for the party's top brass. Despite forcing early retirement on many people, and delaying the miserly bonus it grudgingly agreed to pay, the KMT headquarters had the gall to ask its staffers to entertain the top-ranking party officials at last night's year-end party.

This meshes with the continued deafness of both Ma and the party to calls to return those stolen assets that once belonged to the government -- either transferred to the party at no cost by the KMT government when the Republic of China took over Taiwan at the end of World War II, or purchased later by the KMT with money provided by the government.

Who else is too blind to see the motive behind the pan-blue camp's long-running boycott of a proposed statute on the disposal of assets improperly obtained by political parties?

"Nothing so conclusively proves a man's ability to lead others as what he does from day to day to lead himself," IBM founder Thomas Watson once said.

If ambiguity and mendacity are the way Ma conducts himself with regard to the KMT's financial affairs, and insensitivity and callousness inform his treatment of party staffers, perhaps pan-blue supporters should reconsider their belief that Ma is the man who will lead a return to the promised land -- the Presidential Office -- in 2008.

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