Thu, Oct 05, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: It's the things Ma doesn't do

There is at least one beneficial form of political wrangling. Sometimes things that politicians wish to stay secret can be dug up by political opponents in the public interest.

Taipei City Councilor Hsu Chia-ching (徐佳青) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on Tuesday said that Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) had received a subsidy of NT$740,000 (US$22,300) for the funeral of his father, Ma Ho-ling (馬鶴凌).

Ma has apparently done nothing wrong, because the money was transferred to him legally.

According to the Guidelines for Treatment of Military Personnel and Civil Servants (軍公教員工待遇支給要點), if a civil servant's parent dies, he or she can receive a subsidy of five months' salary. Another subsidy is provided to the deceased's surviving family members, in accordance with the Civil Servant and Teacher Insurance Act (公務人員保險法).

Ma committed no offense. But he did capitalize on a lot of good press from pro-China media outlets that fell over themselves praising him for his "economical spending" on his father's funeral. Ma's spending of a meager NT$80,000 on the funeral ceremony was described as "simple and inconspicuous." This was then transformed into Ma himself being "virtuous and not pompous."

Not only did these outlets approve of Ma's "modest" manner, they also said he served as a "model" for all politicians.

Compare this with the near silence in the pro-blue-camp media after Ma's sizeable subsidy came to light.

When the matter was put to him by reporters on Monday, Ma then -- and only then -- said he would donate the subsidy to a charitable cause.

Then, after Hsu went on the attack on Tuesday, Ma said he "will talk it over with Mom" on what to do with the money.

So, the public is now aware that, first, Ma is undecided on whether he will give the subsidy to charity as he said he would, and second, the only reason he was considering the matter was because it had been raised for him.

On Tuesday, Ma lamented Hsu's accusation and criticized her for "lacking humanity."

Contentious matters involving deceased relatives and friends are best dealt with tactfully and with restraint. But where does "inhumanity" enter the equation if one reasonably points out a redirection of taxpayer funds?

At the very least, Hsu's concerns point to the inappropriateness or dated nature of several laws that combine to waste public resources.

If the funeral for Ma's father only cost a certain amount, he should not be able to use the rest of the subsidy for other purposes, and nor should anyone else in the same circumstances.

With this incident, Ma has failed to impress sober observers looking for a new political leader of stature. It is a small incident, but even the smallest incident allows us to understand the nature of a person and what he stands for. Ma has done nothing wrong, but there is more to high public office than not doing anything wrong, especially in a country suffering from the residue of institutionalized graft.

More urgent, however, is the need for the DPP administration to accelerate reforms and reassess guidelines and administrative orders so that dubious and self-fattening regulations can be done away with for good.

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