The government's announcement on Tuesday evening that gasoline and other fuel prices would be hiked prematurely the next day has not enhanced its political credibility, even if the economics are fairly innocuous.
Gasoline prices were supposed to go up on June 1, but the government’s change of mind on Tuesday to bring the date forward to early yesterday morning sent lines of scooter riders, car owners and truck drivers to gas stations around the country for a long and frustrating wait.
Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) gamely rationalized this bizarre decision on Tuesday by citing public safety.
Many individuals, he said, had been hoarding gasoline as a consequence of the media’s reporting on the issue.
The premier seems to be employing poor advisers. Hoarding gasoline is hazardous and undertaken by people who privilege saving a small sum of money over the safe handling of inflammables — which is to say, not very many people.
It was therefore a politically rash act to cite the welfare of such people in justifying the decision, considering that the public is now entitled to ask which government commitments are reversible and which are not on such fundamental issues.
It also seems that Liu was passing the buck when he blamed media outlets for fanning this minority’s desire to stockpile gasoline and other fuels.
How were ordinary people going to be informed about the pending increases other than through the media?
And was he not expecting that there would be a similar phenomenon ahead of the June 1 price rise, though more manageably spread over several days?
In his government’s defense, Liu detailed the former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration’s price freeze policy and said that some in the pan-blue camp had argued that the government under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was simply “cleaning up the mess left by the DPP.”
Yet it was Ma, shortly after being elected president, who demanded that the Cabinet act simply in a “caretaker” capacity and not change government policy. It seems this included policies that the pan-blue camp considered not to be in the national interest.
Liu offered an apology to the public a few hours after his initial announcement. Government Information Office Minister Vanessa Shih (史亞平) yesterday also offered an apology on behalf of the government over the matter.
With Minister of National Defense Chen Chao-min (陳肇敏) apologizing on Monday for comments he made last week concerning the March 19, 2004, assassination attempt on the former president and vice president, the Ma administration has now notched up an impressive three apologies from three senior members of Cabinet within days of coming to power.
Ma’s presidential campaign enjoyed one of its more effective moments when it trumpeted the slogan: “We are ready.”
Judging from the government’s performance and slipshod execution of policies relating to rising prices, the question asks itself: Were they really ready?
But a second question is rather more important, and quite difficult to answer given the events of the last few days: When will they be ready?