With the much-vaunted Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) evidently failing to deliver on the government’s promise to improve the economy, and with inflationary concerns on the rise, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration has decided to reduce costs. This makes sense, but there is a problem: These cuts are targeting the key symbols of nationhood.
Nearly four years into Ma’s first term and less than a month before he embarks on his second, the state of Taiwan’s economy is rather underwhelming — especially for an administration that never misses an opportunity to accuse its predecessor of mishandling that very sector. The TAIEX is tumbling, salaries are stagnant, exports (even to China) are down and GDP growth has been sliced so often it might as well be salami.
The only thing that has gone up during that period is the cost of living, a trend that is about to be exacerbated by major hikes in energy prices.
As a responsible government that cares for the welfare of its people, the Ma administration has announced that the May 20 presidential inauguration ceremonies will cost no more than NT$6 million (US$200,000), 85 percent less than the cost of the inauguration in 2008 and 91 percent less than former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) inauguration in 2004. Among other things, a fireworks display and a party will be canceled, leaving pretty much just a banquet.
That is all well and good, but it hardly explains why, a little more than six months ago when every economist could already have told us the economy was not performing too well, the same government was willing to disburse NT$3.3 billion — or 550 times what it will spend next month — on celebrations for the Republic of China (ROC) centennial. Or why NT$215 million in taxpayers’ money, 36 times the cost of the inauguration, was spent on the Dreamers (夢想家) musical about the Xinhai Revolution and the establishment of the ROC.
Aside from the trimmed-down inauguration, another item that has faced severe cuts was the annual Han Kuang military exercises. Here again, to conserve money, the drills were toned down — so much so that no live ammunition was expended in the five days of exercises.
One wonders if it is purely coincidental that cuts in government spending only seem to affect the very symbols of nationhood and sovereignty, from national defense to celebrations of the democratic process, that gave Ma a second term in office.
Undoubtedly, governments should refrain from splurging when their nation is in dire financial straits. However, this should not happen at the expense of national pride. Taiwanese, regardless of whether they voted for Ma on Jan. 14, have a right to be proud of their democracy, which is what May 20 is all about. How do ordinary Taiwanese benefit if the celebrations are confined to an inaccessible banquet at the Grand Hotel?
Nearly 600 dignitaries, from heads of state to various representatives, will gather on that day to usher Ma into his second term. They, too, should be able to sense that Taiwan is a proud nation, not one that constantly does everything in its power to keep a low profile so as not to anger the giant next door.
Taiwanese and everybody else who cherishes democratic ideals deserve fireworks and a party on May 20, one that is worthy of the occasion.