In 2000, the transfer of power from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) offered hope to many Taiwanese. It was the greatest opportunity to date to shake off the culture of corruption that had been plaguing the country for decades and build a new system. This was the DPP's promise to the nation.
But the DPP administration was immediately faced with four years of criticism for being incompetent and then two-and-a- half years of even greater controversy over accusations of arrogance and corruption. The first accusation is easily dealt with by policy and political explanations, while the second deals with individuals and is more difficult to respond to. As time passes, Taiwan is sinking and while we are wrapped up in mudslinging, global strategic positioning is taking shape.
When I was in charge of reconstruction following the 921 Earthquake, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) visited the disaster area at least once a month. He was empathetic to the victims of the earthquake and thought of nothing but to restore the affected area to its previous state as soon as possible. He was a humanitarian and efficient president.
When I took up the position as minister of education, our education system was full of problems, and Chen kept thinking about how to turn the crisis in educational reform in a positive direction to bring out the best in the new generation. During my four-year stint as the head of the ministry, I often expressed opinions differing from Chen based on expertise and the regular operations of the system. Even when Chen frowned on my suggestions, he hardly ever overruled my advice. In fact, I was not the only Cabinet member who would give Chen forthright but friendly admonitions.
When the DPP came to power in 2000, most Cabinet members were former KMT members, followed by independents and finally DPP members.
Although this would seem unfair to the governing DPP, it underlined how open-minded the DPP was in its selection people following the transfer of power.
During the early years, the DPP government was thus awash with talent, even surpassing the previous KMT governments. I am proud to have worked together with so many talented people for four years. Although it is not a bad idea for the DPP to appoint more of its own party members, some of them only last half a year, showing that there is a clear imbalance in professional ability.
Under these circumstances, some heads of government agencies have obviously failed to provide Chen with timely advice. As Chen is now struggling with his scandal-ridden presidency, these people should also engage in some serious soul searching.
When former minister of justice Chen Ding-nan (陳定南) attended Cabinet meetings or addressed the legislature, I always sat right next to him. Occasionally, I also ran into him at musical or art performances at the National Theater or Concert Hall. I saw a DPP member cautious and attentive to detail in his work and always trying to improve. When he had finished reading official documents during the intervals between legislative sessions he would pick up an English text book, making notes and often asking advice from others.
I don't know if DPP politicians today are as diligent as Chen was, but I do know that they are less capable of presenting their arguments, which was one of the main reasons why, in the past, they managed to win public support and take power. The present-day DPP is not much like the party I used to know, and some DPP politicians are not like the idealistic students I knew in college.