A Taipei City Government report released on Tuesday suggested that a sole engineer with the city government’s New Construction Office was responsible for the problem with the T16 support pillar of the Maokong Gondola.
The report said the staffer, surnamed Tien (田), failed to provide sufficient information on the results of geological drilling tests before construction began, which led to stability problems for the pillar. The report links no other city government officials, such as then-Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and incumbent Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), to even the slightest of administrative negligence.
It is inconceivable that the city government thought that a report pinning the blame on a low-ranking staffer would convince the public that all accountability issues concerning the troubled NT$1 billion (US$30 million) cable car system have been resolved.
Of course, engineers involved in the project were at least partly responsible for ensuring the quality of the cable car. Ma was correct when he said in an interview that “the engineering issue [of the gondola] was a professional one and not up to me to decide.”
Blaming engineers for the gondola’s problems does not mean that those who sat in their offices signing paperwork for the project do not bear administrative responsibility.
After all, who approved building the gondola in an unstable mountainous area in the first place? Who allowed the project to be carried out without environmental impact assessments, as required by the Environmental Impact Assessment Act (環境影響評估法), by categorizing the project as construction of a “tourism and recreational” facility and not mass transportation?
Who hurried the project forward while bypassing soil and water conservation measures required by the Building Act (建築法)?
Indeed, when the Maokong Gondola started operation in July 2007, an all-smiling Ma touted it as his pride and joy, a testimony to his superior vision and good governance. Hau lauded the project as a symbol of cooperation between former and incumbent city governments.
But when problems concerning the safety of the gondola started to surface, Ma and Hau stopped patting themselves at the back and left an unfortunate staffer to shoulder responsibility for the mess.
Tien’s situation disturbingly reminds us of the unfortunate fate of Yu Wen (余文), a city government staffer who became the fall guy in Ma’s mayoral fund case.
Tien’s situation also distressingly reminds us of the fate of former director-general of highways under the Ministry of Transportation and Communications James Chen (陳晉源) — the lone official who took responsibility when rushing water caused part of the Houfeng Bridge (后豐橋) to collapse, leading to the loss of six lives in Taichung County in September.
The former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government and now the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration have both revealed different strategies for accountability.
With the DPP government, higher-ups were forced to resign to show responsibility for things that went wrong.
But when the KMT government creates a mess, a staffer at the bottom, like Yu Wen, will be expected to take the blame.