Fri, Jul 08, 2011 - Page 8 News List

New government, new neutrality

By Lo Chih-cheng 羅致政

Ma has damaged Taiwan in numerous ways over the past three years, but his reckless defilement of the necessarily neutral civil service system, obliging countless public servants to open themselves to accusations of administrative injustice, is truly an ugly blot on the history of Taiwanese democracy. I have absolutely no doubt that he shall be judged accordingly.

While it is true that a dead fish rots first at the head, it is also true that people need to be accountable for their own actions.

If these civil servants expect everyone else to give them the respect they feel their profession deserves, and if they wish to enhance their own reputations and status within society, they have to always observe official and administrative neutrality.

Regrettably, we have seen too many examples of the government willfully smothering neutrality and professionalism within the system.

There is also a number of senior civil servants who have compromised the standards of professionalism, falling over one another to pander to the government’s wishes — behavior that I doubt the majority of Taiwan’s public servants would condone.

Government officials may well try to persuade themselves that they are absolved of any responsibility, telling themselves that one is obliged to stoop in low-ceilinged rooms, but this is just more of the foreign minister’s “masochistic bent.”

If they are to divest themselves of this culture of subordination, they need to throw their weight behind facilitating a change of government, in order to punish a ruling party more interested in civil servants’ loyalty than in their professionalism.

In any case, a regular change in government actually helps the civil service system maintain its independence — something which is necessary for it to increase its reputation and social standing.

The upshot of all of this is that public servants need to change their approach.

Civil servants must no longer assume that blindly following the interests of the ruling party is the natural or moral thing to do, or accept that neutrality is nothing but an ideal that is out of their hands and beyond their reach.

If they want to win back some respect and a degree of professionalism, there is no better tool to achieve this than their vote.

Another change of government will be testament to the deepening and consolidation of Taiwanese democracy — and it may just bring back neutrality and professionalism in the civil service.

Lo Chih-cheng is an associate professor of political science at Soochow University.

Translated by Perry Svensson and Paul Cooper

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