This winter is not as cold as those of years past, but an unusual chill is making people more and more uneasy. On Dec. 27, many of my friends joined us in a forum sponsored by Taiwan Thinktank. These are people who would rather discuss the nation’s future rather than simply enjoy the gentle wind and beautiful sunshine outside.
Public concern over a government decision-making process that is neither transparent nor democratic is growing as numerous policies are made behind closed doors. With a lack of oversight, mistakes are more often as are decisions that are damaging to the interests of the public. Confronted by strong social criticism of its policies, the government has only acted willfully and even tried to cover up its mistakes through lies and sophistry, leaving many people even angrier and worried.
In contrast, under the former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, all major cross-strait policies were made only after a consensus was reached through discussions between the ruling and opposition camps, and with the participation of all sectors of society. For example, the government sponsored the 2001 Economic Development Advisory Conference and used the guidelines reached at the conference to formulate its “active opening, effective management” policy to govern cross-strait affairs. Another forum, the 2006 Conference on Sustainable Economic Development, was held before the administration changed the policy to “active management, effective opening.”
Such a democratic policy review mechanism is absent from the policymaking process of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government, which excludes civil society’s participation and treats the Legislative Yuan as a rubber stamp for policy endorsement.
Policies drawn behind closed doors are full of loopholes and harm the majority while profiting a minority. For example, the government has only stressed the advantages of relaxing restrictions on investments in China for Taiwanese companies — without mentioning the risks. A few people or companies may profit from these so-called “China-concept” shares, while many more retail investors are exposed to enormous risks.
About 74 percent of the companies listed on the Taiwanese stock market have subsidiaries in China. Although the law demands that a parent company and its subsidiaries consolidate their financial statements, the Taiwan Stock Exchange has no control over these companies’ operations in China. Taiwanese accountants have to give way to Chinese accountants in auditing the Chinese subsidiary firms. The government has failed to mention risks such as this.
As Taiwan Thinktank chairman Chen Po-chih (陳博志) said during the recent conference, the government had purposely exaggerated the benefits of its cross-strait economic and trade policy, while deceiving the public by ignoring its considerable hidden costs. Only a charlatan would claim that his medicine is a cure-all without any side effects. As the government repeatedly pretends that reliance on China is the solution to all of Taiwan’s economic problems, is it not behaving like a charlatan? This is more than incompetence — it is deceit.
Civil society is the source of strength for national progress. As a platform for informed discourse, Taiwan Thinktank will continue to host forums to engage the public on vital issues and to reveal the truth behind the government’s carefully wrapped propaganda and to stimulate independent thinking. It will raise its voice in the hope that its concerns will not fall on deaf ears.