Last week, Department of Health Minister Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良) was lauded for sticking to his guns over his decision to resign in keeping with a pledge he made seven months ago to increase national health insurance premiums. Today, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) may have a chance to demonstrate his own strength of character, pending the outcome of a meeting between Yaung and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
Yaung is scheduled to meet Ma at the Presidential Office, where he will brief the president on the department’s proposal to raise health premiums. Yaung explained his resignation by saying he had been unable to devise a multiple-rate payment scale that would have exempted 75 percent of those insured from the health department’s proposed increase in premiums, as Wu had instructed.
“It would be very disrespectful to the nation if I missed a scheduled briefing with the president,” Yaung told reporters last Wednesday.
While his remarks might seem respectful, Wu may well have taken a different view, because Yaung did miss a scheduled briefing with Wu last week.
The logic of Yaung’s statement about his meeting with Ma implies he has little respect for Wu. Indeed, not only did Yaung skip his briefing with Wu initially scheduled for 6pm on Monday last week, he also blindsided Wu by holding a press conference two hours earlier to announce his sudden resignation.
If Yaung’s meeting with Ma today results in the former withdrawing his resignation and the president accepting Yaung’s version of a single-rate payment scale that would result in an increase in premiums for 41 percent of those insured, it would inevitably be seen as a challenge to Wu’s authority as head of the Cabinet.
As a demonstration of his character, Wu would perhaps be best advised to submit the collective resignation of his whole Cabinet. How else can he expect to command respect in his leadership if a member of that Cabinet so blatantly defies the chain of command?
As the nation’s highest administrative official, Wu is tasked with leading the Cabinet and mapping out policies that best serve the public. When a premier has difficulty leading his Cabinet with confidence and authority, how can he reasonably expect the public to have any confidence in him or the Cabinet?
Following the dispute surrounding Yaung, the resignation of former minister of justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰) on Friday and the rumored weariness expressed by National Communications Commission Chairperson Bonnie Peng (彭芸), it is hardly surprising that many people are asking whether the Wu Cabinet is imploding. Wu’s comments yesterday on the legislative floor that “the number of people considering resignation cannot be counted on the fingers of two hands” certainly did not help the public mood, nor did it help to restore confidence in the Cabinet.
With media speculating that Ma may opt to retain Yaung’s proposed national health premium policy, there is much expectation over how Wu will respond to such a public dressing-down from not only a subordinate, but also the president.