Sun, Aug 23, 2009 - Page 8 News List

How to apologize for everyone else

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水

Despite repeated apologies at a press conference on Tuesday, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) repeatedly stressed that his leadership is strong and forceful. I believe it would be difficult to find someone who would not be angered by these remarks.

Ma offered five apologies. An apology is an expression of one’s regret for making a mistake, yet Ma repeatedly praised his own leadership throughout the press conference. Since his leadership is strong and forceful, he obviously did not have anything to apologize for. He must have been apologizing for others. But who?

First, Ma said the biggest problem with Typhoon Morakot was the unprecedented rainfall — the largest amount in 200 years.

The first party to have made a mistake, then, was obviously the gods, so Ma must have been apologizing on their behalf.

Then, Ma said many had been taught a lesson that leaving dangerous places is the best policy. This clearly reflected his earlier discontent over the failure of locals to evacuate. Ma, then, must have been apologizing for those buried alive in the mudslides who were wrong not to flee.

Third, four days after the Sept. 21, 1999, earthquake, then president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) issued an emergency decree. More than 70 percent of the public believe that Ma should also have done so to avoid disruption in the chain of command. Ma, however, said such orders cannot be issued recklessly because this would violate the democratic spirit. Democracy was thus to blame, so Ma must have been apologizing on its behalf.

Fourth, Ma said the Disaster Prevention and Protection Act (災害防救法) is comprehensive, so an emergency decree was unnecessary. The act was thus to blame for being too perfect. But Ma also pledged to establish a disaster prevention and relief agency for effective and comprehensive planning. The government now would have to amend the act, which apparently isn’t so perfect after all. That means Ma was apologizing on behalf of the act, both for being perfect and for not being perfect enough.

Fifth, Ma’s leadership is clearly outstanding, and it is difficult for his team to be equally so. He promised to investigate the activities of his team — so they were definitely making mistakes.

But who in the team should be blamed? Many said the military departed for disaster zones only two hours after the 921 Earthquake, but that they procrastinated this time. When asked by journalists whether he had exercised his powers as commander-in-chief, he said “of course” and that he inspected the disaster areas in that status. Since Ma is such a brilliant commander, the troops must surely be to blame.

He also emphasized that according to the law, disaster prevention and relief is the responsibility of local governments with support from the central government. Local governments thus had greater responsibility for mistakes than the central government. His fifth apology, then, was on behalf of local government officials.

When asked why the Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected foreign aid, Ma’s answer was very odd. He rebuked reporters for politicizing the issue, saying that they should focus on humanitarianism. Since the ministry’s rejection obviously was not a humanitarian issue, there was nothing wrong with the disaster relief effort, and an apology for this was unnecessary.

In feudal times, emperors issued edicts blaming themselves when natural disasters occurred. Ma issued an edict of sorts at the press conference, except that this edict blamed the gods, the law, democracy, the public and government officials. With such a president — blaming everyone else while praising himself — we can sigh and shed a tear.

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