Grilled by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Kao-hsiung City councilors on Tuesday over her whereabouts during the pivotal hours from 2pm to 5pm when Typhoon Fanapi struck on Sept. 19, Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) of the Democratic Progressive Party admitted that she took a break from typhoon inspections that afternoon and went home for a 20-minute rest.
“I blame myself very much for not standing with the people who were in pain. I went home to change out of wet clothes and had a quick rest. I should not have done these things ... I feel really guilty and sorry. I should not have taken a rest,” she said, all the while stressing that although she was not out inspecting the flooded areas nor present at the city’s emergency operations center, she remained in close contact and had been kept abreast of the developments.
Launching a volley of criticism at Chen, the pan-blue camp accused Chen of neglecting her duties and faulted her for taking a break when the city was being pelted by heavy rains brought by Fanapi. The KMT city councilors yesterday demanded that Chen step down over the matter.
The pan-blues’ criticism of Chen was understandable as Chen, being the head of the city, stands to be scrutinized and should thus shoulder her responsibilities.
With the November municipal elections just around the corner, however, the criticism could easily spiral out of proportion, and people could lose touch with reason if they allow themselves to be consumed by partisan interests.
According to the timeline released by the Kao-hsiung City Government on Tuesday, Chen’s schedule on Sept. 19 indicated that she was inspecting the city’s Sewage Systems Office and Fire Bureau in the morning, had lunch at noon, departed for further inspections at 1:20pm, then engaged in planning for flooded areas before returning to her residence at 2:30pm. She left at 4:52pm for another inspection before arriving at the city’s emergency operations center at 6:30pm.
Given that Chen was out and about all day, her taking a 20-minute rest should be reasonable to anyone with a sense of logic and humanity.
People who are quick to compare Chen’s 20-minute rest to former premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) going for a haircut and former Cabinet secretary-general Hsueh Hsiang-chuan (薛香川) attending a Father’s Day dinner at a five-star hotel in Taipei on Aug. 8 last year, when many areas in the south were hit by severe flooding and torrential rain because of Typhoon Morakot, fail to see the crucial differences between the two cases.
During Morakot, central government officials failed to heed the torrential rain in southern Taiwan, and it was their sluggishness and lack of awareness that led to the loss of many lives.
Chen, however, was engaged in a full-day schedule of typhoon-related matters. To compare her 20-minute rest with Liu’s haircut and Hsueh’s dining out is like comparing apples and oranges.
Damage from torrential rain and flooding in Kao-hsiung are facts that cannot be denied nor changed. What matters, however, is the city government’s attitude and approach, which was swift with its post-flood work, as it cleaned up all underground garages and pumped water out of flooded basements within three days.
The pan-blues might be having a field day with Chen’s 20-minute rest, but they would be wise not to lose their sense of rationality and humanity in pursuit of partisan gains.