Although President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration recently took time to laud its achievements over the past three years, its record has attracted much criticism.
In addition to the central election promise of 6 percent economic growth per year, per capita annual income of US$30,000 and an unemployment rate lower than 3 percent by next year, on which Ma has failed to deliver, there is now another perhaps even more worrying example of a broken promise.
When Ma attended the Global Science Leaders Forum organized by the National Science Council on April 25, he said: “I will do all I can to keep research and development expenditure growing by eight to 10 percent annually.”
However, the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics has since announced that the science budget for next year will be cut by 5 percent.
Over past three years, the Ma administration has broken countless policy promises. Some of these were made by Ma on the spur of the moment. Others were more or less ignored by the Cabinet and yet others were promises that both Ma and the Cabinet wanted to deliver on, but simply failed to do so.
Maybe Ma really does support the science budget. When he attended the opening ceremony for the Biotechnology Building at Hsinchu Biomedical Science Park last Wednesday, he said: “We continue to aim for eight to 10 percent growth in the annual budget for research and development expenditure,” which suggests that this is an issue he genuinely believes to be important.
Unfortunately, the allocation principles for next year’s science budget announced by the Cabinet mean that funding could be cut by as much as 7 percent to 8 percent. Even if the surplus from the Cabinet’s Science and Technology Development Fund is included as part of next year’s budget, the cut in funding is still 5 percent.
Given the nation’s fiscal difficulties — per capita debt is now NT$210,000 — the government must of course make budget cuts.
However, scientific and technological research and development directly affect national competitiveness. At present they make up less than 5 percent of the government’s budget and with annual growth of eight to 10 percent add little to the national debt, while holding out the prospect of enhanced national competitiveness.
As labor-intensive industries have largely relocated to China, Taiwan depends on innovation and the high-tech sector to maintain its competitiveness. If the government cuts the budget for science and technology, that could undermine innovation, at a time when we cannot possibly return to the era of export processing.
To celebrate his three years in office on Friday last week, Ma and Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) highlighted the government’s achievements. They also gave each other a very public pat on the back for their seamless cooperation, paving the way for a joint Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential ticket.
However, it is increasingly clear that cooperation between the Presidential Office and the Cabinet is not as close as they would have us believe. Their divergent priorities and goals can be seen from the fact that Wu cut the science budget at the same time as Ma was promising to increase it.
Fortunately, the budget has not yet been finalized, giving them time to fix this egregious mistake.
For the long-term prosperity of the nation, let’s hope the Cabinet’s decision is re-evaluated and scientific and technological development are allowed to continue their key role as an engine of national prosperity.