While the public struggles under the weight of the economic slowdown, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his administration seem to be living in a world of their own.
Most Taiwanese have felt the pain of the global economic crunch, with an increasing number struggling to make ends meet. More than 10,000 enterprises were shuttered last year, and last month saw the unemployment rate surge to a five-year high of 4.64 percent. That translates into 507,000 people out of work. Households are worrying about rising health insurance fees and commodity prices, while food vendors and restaurant owners continue to feel the heat from rising liquefied petroleum gas prices despite falling international oil prices.
Social workers have also raised the alarm at the number of suicides, which climbed from about 3,900 in 2007 to more than 4,000 last year. Meanwhile, residents in Kaohsiung County’s Taliao Township (大寮) live in constant discomfort over mysterious gas leaks that no one seems to be able to claim responsibility for, let alone fix the problem.
Against this backdrop comes news of what has been occupying the Ma administration of late. While the public worries about wage cuts and layoffs, the most pressing matter in the mind of Minister of the Central Personnel Administration Chen Ching-hsiu (陳清秀) appears to be leisure.
Aside from mulling over draft regulations on vacations for the head of state and playing with the idea of building a presidential retreat like Camp David in the US, Chen has also proposed holding regular outings — such as hiking or attending concerts — for Cabinet members “to enhance communication” among different branches of government. All this with taxpayers footing the bill.
Life in Ma’s world must be so easy that he could even joke at a media event last week to promote suicide prevention assistance, saying the suicide hotline “1995” was a play on his name, “[Ma] Ying-jeou saves me” (英九救我). Ma seems to be oblivious to the fact that his administration’s ineffectual policies have only contributed to the prevailing sense of doom and gloom.
In his New Year’s Day address, Ma expressed hope that civil servants would emulate Kuanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion, hear the public’s call for help, take the initiative and offer much-needed assistance and sound policy solutions.
“Taiwanese are tightening their belts amid the economic slowdown, and I am deeply concerned about the plight of workers who have lost their jobs, the families who are struggling to get by and companies that are just trying to survive through the Lunar New Year,” Ma said.
“All civil servants, whether at the central or local [government] level, should demonstrate a spirit of compassion, like the goddess of mercy, and think of ways we can help our fellow countrymen. Remember, help offered too late is no help at all,” the president said.
All this sounds impressive. But Ma should also remember that good intentions alone are not enough. They mean nothing when they are not accompanied by action. Empty rhetoric and insensitivity only underscore how removed from reality his administration is.