Wed, Dec 17, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Unchecked power can only invite more abuse

By Hawang Shiow-duan 黃秀端

As Taiwanese plan how to use their consumer vouchers, the government is thinking about lending NT$4 trillion (US$121.27 billion) of the nation’s postal savings to small and medium-sized private banks and another NT$800 million to the Cabinet’s National Development Fund to help businesses resolve their problems.

The government’s spending spree is worrying. Adding to the burden of future generations in this uninhibited manner has engendered fears that the measures will drive Taiwan to the verge of bankruptcy.

Even more worrying is that the government is becoming increasingly opaque. Given its unsupervised power, this could well be the beginning of another type of crisis.

It is often said that politics is an authoritarian process for resource distribution. It determines, to use recent examples, who will be eligible for consumer vouchers and which companies will be given assistance. It may also determine who will benefit from the deregulation of cross-strait relations and who will be its victims.

In this process, the relationship between the public and the government is built on asymmetrical information. If those in power are not restrained by various forms of supervision, they may work to enrich themselves rather than concentrating on public welfare. Without accountability and supervisory mechanisms, there will be corruption. Transparency is a premise for democratic accountability.

Filled with self-assurance, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) believes his government is clean. If, however, government policy remains opaque and closed to the public for long and the public is given no opportunity to participate or express its views, it is questionable if anyone will be able to guarantee there won’t be a resumption of irregularities.

Regarding the problems that have haunted the Maokong Gondola, the Taipei City Government and Ma — mayor of Taipei when the project was launched — have been unable to show that there were no missteps concerning the choice of location, the design and planning process.

After Ma became president, cross-strait talks and deregulation accelerated. The problem is that the possible impact of these talks and whatever assessments the government has made remain largely unknown. Although public pressure forced the government to send the four agreements signed by representatives of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait and the Straits Exchange Foundation to the legislature for review, parts of these agreements have already been, or are about to be, implemented, even if they are still under legislative review. In addition, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-Chinese Communist Party communication platform the government relies on has no legal status, while conflicts of interest arise for several of the people participating in the negotiations.

When Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) requested a debate, the Presidential Office refused with an arrogant remark, saying that voters had made a clear and unambiguous choice on cross-strait policy on election day.

Many companies are beginning to cast covetous eyes on the massive National Development Fund, but we don’t know the government’s standards for determining which companies are to receive assistance, nor is there any supervisory mechanism.

When the DPP Cabinet ordered that NT$10 billion in postal savings be transferred to Sunny Bank, there were suspicions of conflicts of interest. Now that the current government wants to give out trillions of NT dollars, can we be sure there are no conflicts of interest, or do we know who will take responsibility if these investments incur losses?

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