Amid the ongoing wrangle between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) over the price of persimmons and other fruits, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on Tuesday visited a traditional market in Greater Taichung to demonstrate his concern about the issue.
At the market, Ma bought about 5,000kg of persimmons as a gesture of support for the farmers, as well as to counter the DPP’s claim that fruit prices have plummeted.
While the move was certainly designed to show Ma’s concern and support for fruit farmers, a closer look might lead one to doubt the sincerity of his actions.
Ma footed the bill not from his own pocket, but from the president’s state affairs fund. While some might argue that it is the thought that counts and that there is nothing wrong with using the fund — which Ma can use at his discretion — to pay for the purchase, many others might ask whether withdrawing the money from the fund truly shows Ma cares about the farmers.
If he did care, wouldn’t he set a better example and win more respect from the public by purchasing his pile of persimmons with his own money, rather than paying with taxpayer funds?
That he did not dip into his own pocket leaves many unconvinced that Ma genuinely cares about the plight of farmers: His thoughtful gesture was, after all, made at the expense of the taxpayer.
And is it at all possible for Ma to comprehend the big picture and the seriousness of the situation that the farmers are facing through a mere visit to a traditional market?
If Ma wanted to find out how he could help the farmers, he would visit farms and see firsthand the damage that has been caused to crops by unusually heavy rains. Perhaps then he might grasp something of the pain being experienced by farmers who have had to watch their months of hard work, sweat and tears go down the drain.
Aside from the seeming lack of sincerity, Ma’s extravagant persimmon purchase was also in itself contradictory.
Ma and the Council of Agriculture have in the past few days slammed the DPP over its claims about persimmon prices and argued that fruit prices have not dropped as low as the DPP has said.
However, if persimmons were selling at as reasonable a price as the KMT government says, why the need for the president to sponsor the purchase in the first place?
Ma has become fond of saying: “I’m not selling out Taiwan; what I sold was local fruit.” However, it appears that what he is actually selling out is the nation’s fruit farmers.
Amid the rhetoric of the fruit-price wars, the KMT — to show it stands on the side of the fruit farmers — yesterday placed an advertisement in several local newspapers trumpeting Taiwan’s fruits as being first-class.
Indeed they are. That’s how the nation earned the honor of being called the “kingdom of fruit.”
However, what are Taiwanese fruit farmers supposed to do in the face of an incompetent government whose concern for the issue — last-minute advertising and empty gestures of buying up persimmons — is evidently only skin deep?