One should be wary of governments that tell the public that everything is fine and under control all the time. And yet, this is exactly the dish President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration has been serving the public since it came into office in 2008.
Just as with ordinary human beings, people who claim to be right all the time, or who deny even the possibility that something may have gone wrong, reveal one of two things about themselves: Either they’re lying, or they have lost touch with reality. It’s hard to tell which is worse, but the one thing that’s certain is that danger cannot but lurk far behind.
On almost every controversy — the poor handling of the Typhoon Morakot incident, bird flu outbreaks, a dangerous China policy, the theft by the state of private property, delays in the implementation of the second-generation national health insurance program, delays in phasing out conscription in the armed forces, disproportionate police deployments, the US beef flap and recent frictions with Singapore and Sao Tome and Principe to name a few — the Ma government has shot back at critics by saying that everything is fine and that the public should have faith in its ability to manage. The closest it has come to admitting deficiencies in governance was to slap low to mid-level government officials on the wrist, a reprimand that is usually followed by the official being moved to another branch of government or the warm embrace of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
In the rare instances where the government actually found fault with its handling of various policies, top officials invariably pointed to delays in the legislature and deficiencies in the law, rather than what on some occasions was outright injustice perpetrated by the state against individuals. By doing so, the government exonerated itself of all moral responsibility and instead blamed a faceless system, as if it, too, were somehow a victim, before promising amendments that, in the abstract, will make everything all right.
In similar vein, Minister of the Interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源) late last month, following the destruction of two houses owned by the Wang (王) family in Taipei’s Shilin District (士林), could not go beyond uttering that there were “some elements of injustice involved in the urban renewal project” that led to the outrage. What Lee seems to have failed to realize is that injustice either is or isn’t — there is no in--between. This is reminiscent of a US official during the Rwandan genocide in 1994 saying that “acts of genocide,” as opposed to genocide, were being committed. Ridicule aside, the official’s comments were part of then-US president Bill Clinton’s policy that argued against intervening in the country, where close to 1 million people were being massacred. In other words, this was phraseology making the case for inaction.
Taiwanese get the same kind of language from the military on a constant basis. China modernizes its military, conducts maneuvers around Taiwan, spies on its air defense systems and continues to add missiles targeting it, and yet, aside from refusing to comment on specifics, the Taiwanse military tells the public that — yes, everything is under control.
The problem with this fantasy world is that it can only work for so long. Eventually, reality will catch up with the rhetoric, and the boat captain who keeps telling passengers that the Titanic is not sinking will, like those he has been deceiving, risk his skin by remaining in his cabin.
If it truly cares about its legacy as a government for the people, the Ma administration should have the courage to admit its failures and to fix the fundamentals, rather than continue pretending that everything is fine and under control.
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