President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) touts himself as being thrifty — as vouched for by his long-time barber and a cobbler, who in a recent campaign advertisement extolled Ma’s thriftiness.
In the TV spot, the barber described Ma as an easy customer who never makes special demands on how he’d like his hair styled.
The cobbler spoke of Ma’s frugality, saying he has been patching Ma’s worn-out shoes for more than two decades, adding that he had repaired some of Ma’s shoes five or six times, and that he had also repaired Ma’s swimming trunks.
Being thrifty is indeed a virtue, so the campaign ad was designed to depict Ma as a politician who does not waste money and is down-to-earth.
However, when politicians are portrayed as overly virtuous and eulogized by certain media outlets, they tend to strike the wrong chord with voters.
How often does one hear stories of a person wearing the same suit for 10 years and using the same blanket for 34 years, as Ma recently claimed on his Facebook page?
Any ordinary person would have at least two suits to alternate, or more for people who are better off, not to mention Ma, who — according to a report on the assets of public figures released by the Control Yuan in March — has bank deposits of NT$70.62 million (US$2.33 million), among other assets.
Is there really a need for a person of Ma’s affluence and status to propagandize compliments on his thriftiness?
However, after spending NT$215 million (US$7.1 million) to produce a two-night run of the rock musical Dreamers and millions more on fireworks to celebrate the Republic of China’s centennial, as well as NT$10 billion on the Taipei International Flora Expo, it appears the Ma administration is not quite so thrifty when it comes to spending taxpayers’ money.
The president made that clear last month when he footed the bill — using money from the state affairs fund, not from his own pocket — for a purchase of about 5 tonnes of persimmons, ostensibly to help the ailing agricultural industry.
Ma’s so-called “thriftiness” is selective: He is a penny-pincher when it comes to spending his own money, but a spendthrift when it comes to taxpayers’ money.
Moreover, despite the nation’s financial plight, the Presidential Office, saying it needed to give the president “more space to help the disadvantaged,” increased his discretionary fund from NT$30 million to NT$40 million a year after he was inaugurated.
With Ma’s support rates slumping according to several recent media polls, it appears the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has launched yet another campaign aimed at eulogizing Ma’s thrifty traits.
The Taiwanese public does not care how many old pairs of shoes the president repairs and swimming trunks he has patched; what people care about is whether Ma, as a national leader, has what it takes to give them a better standard of living.
And how brazen is Ma’s re-election campaign office to paint the president as being frugal when the nation’s debt has doubled from NT$1.2 trillion when the Democratic Progressive Party governmnet left office in 2008 to NT$2.4 trillion three years later?