Sun, Aug 17, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Respect for the civil service system

By Ing-wen Tsai 蔡英文

Less than a month after President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his administration took office, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislative caucus demanded that the Cabinet conduct a thorough examination of staffers from the former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government, with Premier Liu Chao-hsiuan (劉兆玄) promising to come up with an appropriate response to fulfill public expectations.

This was followed by the Cabinet’s order for all ministries to replace officials who cling to the “old mindset” — an apparent reference to the old administration. One official who rejected the KMT administration’s move to purge career civil servants was then deputy secretary-general of the Cabinet Chen Mei-ling (陳美伶), who refused an unexpected transfer to another civil post and chose to retire.

The way the Ma administration has treated the civil service system since its accession to power highlights a serious problem: Even though Taiwan has experienced two transfers of power, the administration still questions the mindset and party loyalties of the nation’s civil servants. The public should pay attention to the possible “chilling effect” that this might have: Civil servants could become obsequious, afraid to speak their mind and assume responsibility for fear of being a target of criticism after a transition of power.

Although the KMT had earlier ruled as an authoritarian party-state regime, it did undertake a complete privatization of the civil service system. It cannot be denied that the DPP also made some changes as to who was employed as civil servants after taking power in 2000 and that better approaches could have been adopted. These are mistakes that the DPP made and we should examine where the party went wrong. Although there was some friction between the administration and the civil service system during its eight years in power, the DPP did put the system on the right path to “nationalization.”

As ruling parties change in a democratic regime, political appointees also come and go. However, career civil servants are different. These are the people that protect a nation’s interests. They are human resources that the nation has cultivated for a long time — an important asset as well as the backbone of the country. These people should not be tainted by any political party nor purged.

Civil officials or public servants play a significant role in a democratic political system. No matter how many times power changes hands or the Cabinet is reshuffled, a solid network of professional civil servants could contribute to government stability. As Taiwan has been through two major power transitions, the majority of civil officials have experienced working under different political parties in power. They are well acquainted with what democracy means and have a strong association with the country. For them, the transfer of power is a democratic norm. Their loyalties lie not with any political party, but with the public. The nation has outstanding civil servants and I cannot understand how those in power can be so hardhearted as to make this group of workers afraid that they might be replaced any time.

The nation has made amazing progress in democracy, but there is still much room for improvement. This is why the DPP has been devoted to pushing forward a new political culture. To end this vicious conflict between the pan-blue and pan-green camps and bring real peace to society, a new political culture should be a goal that all Taiwanese strive for.

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