Taiwanese voters really got it wrong when they elected Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), a president who keeps breaking his promises.
Ma’s excuse for his failure to deliver on his “633” policy — 6 percent annual economic growth, US$30,000 per capita income and an unemployment rate lower than 3 percent by 2012 — is that he had not foreseen the global financial meltdown. In a debate during the presidential election campaign, Ma said he would be willing to donate half of his salary to charity if he failed to deliver on the pledge, but now he won’t consider it until 2016.
He used to say he wanted to give the streets back to the public, but now his party is proposing an amendment to the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法) that places even stricter limits on public gatherings. He said there could be no unification talks until China reassesses the 1989 Democracy Movement, but now he is pushing for unification as fast as he can.
He also said Taiwan’s future would be decided by the 23 million Taiwanese, although he won’t even allow a referendum on the proposed cross-strait economic cooperation framework agreement. Given his propensity for dodging issues and deceiving the public, it should be no surprise that Taipei now has a “dodgy” MRT line.
As Taipei mayor, Ma wanted the city’s Neihu Line to be finished before the end of his term so he could call it one of his political achievements. To this end, he decided to make the Neihu extension a medium-capacity line, disregarding professional assessments, a city council resolution and views raised at public hearings.
The process raised suspicions of corruption, with rumors of city officials accepting benefits from construction companies. Now the Neihu Line is up and running — running into trouble, that is. Ma still proudly asserts that the biggest breakthrough of his term as mayor was the decision to build the long-delayed Neihu extension as a medium-capacity elevated line. Now many people think Ma should bear responsibility for mistakes during his mayoral term.
The government, however, claims city councilors and borough wardens all wanted the line to go into service as early as possible, and that is why a medium-capacity elevated system was chosen. So, the government says, the decision was not Ma’s alone. Ma deceives the public, shifts blame and grabs for power, but takes no responsibility for his actions. How did we end up with a president like this?
Why is it that construction work on the Neihu Line was put up for tender twice, but no Taiwanese firm with MRT construction experience submitted a bid? Why was the contract awarded to Kung Sing Engineering Corporation, which had no such experience? The Canadian firm Bombardier, which won the contract to supply the machinery and electrical equipment, does not have access to patent system technology owned by Matra, the French company that built the original Muzha line.
As a consequence, the Muzha line’s equipment has been junked and its 102 train carriages are sitting unused at the Muzha depot. Can Ma guarantee that these carriages can be converted for use with Bombardier’s system? If they can’t, the carriages, worth NT$4.5 billion (US$137 million), will have to be scrapped. That is much more than what former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is accused of embezzling. Is that none of Ma’s responsibility? If the carriages can’t be converted, that implies the whole decision process was ill conceived. Wouldn’t charges of negligence be justified?
The most valuable qualities in a politician are honesty and reliability. During his year in office, Ma has often deceived the public. He says one thing and does another while devoting all his efforts to power struggles. No wonder people find him insincere.
How can we be expected to trust such a president? There are so many doubts and suspicions surrounding the Neihu Line. If Ma is serious about fighting corruption, he should allow the Special Investigation Division to look into the matter without using his presidential powers to interfere. The public wants to see corruption dealt with and would support the government if it tackled graft seriously.
If Ma wants to win back public trust, he must convince them that the same standard applies across the board in fighting corruption. He should also order an investigation into whether Presidential Office Secretary-General Chan Chun-po (詹春柏) has been involved in any illegal dealings when “fixing” business disputes, and to look into whether Chan’s assertion that this is commonplace in party offices is at odds with Ma’s avowed principle of putting ethics before talent. If the judiciary is only ever seen to take on Ma’s political opponents, the public will not hesitate to call Ma a “dodgy president.”
Allen Houng is a professor in the Institute of Philosophy of Mind and Cognition at National Yang-Ming University.
TRANSLATED BY JULIAN CLEGG
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