At 10pm on Tuesday, the government announced a major about-face in its policy on electricity rates. Rather than the initial plan that would have seen household electricity rates increase by an average of 16.9 percent, commercial rates by 39 percent and industrial rates by 35 percent from May 15, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) unveiled a scheme to implement the increase in phases.
There will be three stages, Ma said — 40 percent of the original increase on June 10 and 40 percent on Dec. 10, while the date when the remaining 20 percent increase is implemented depends on whether state-run Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) has presented an acceptable reform program to the government.
At first glance, it appears the Ma administration has heeded the public outcry over the rate increase and reacted responsibly by revising its policy.
However, a closer look suggests Ma remains as arrogant and callous toward the plight of the public as ever.
First, no single word of apology was offered throughout Ma’s statement over the government’s flip-flop.
As recently as two weeks ago, when defending what Ma then called the absolute necessity of sticking to the scheduled May 15 price increase, the president, in response to public criticism, said it was a result of people not understanding economics. Now that the government has made a major about-face, doesn’t the president at least owe the public an apology for having chided them for not understanding his so-called economics?
Second, the fact that not a single Cabinet official has shouldered responsibly for the government’s ill-conceived electricity policy highlights the arrogance of Ma and his administration.
Then there is the odd approach the Ma administration adopts in its dealings with the public. In an obvious attempt to assuage public anger, it has resorted to the tactic of giving the public “a discount.”
Ma outlined the policy change as if the government were doing the public a favor by opting not to make a one-time increase in the price of electricity.
The truth is that whether there is a one-time increase or a phased increase, the planned increase has already led to higher retail prices. In other words, the so-called revised policy does nothing to reduce the daily financial burden on the public.
Most significantly, Ma and the Cabinet have failed to provide the public with a convincing explanation as to why electricity prices must be increased. Saying that Taipower has accumulated losses of NT$132.2 billion (US$4.5 billion) as of the end of February is not a good enough reason to justify the increases.
If Ma is sincere about wanting to reduce people’s economic burden and conduct reform, he would have demanded that Taipower present a satisfactory reform plan by June 10, before deciding whether there should be an increase in electricity prices.
Many political observers have suggested that the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) embarrassing loss in the Lugang Township (鹿港) mayoral by-election in Changhua County on Saturday put pressure on the Ma administration, prompting it to revise its planned policy.
In light of Ma’s lack of sincerity when conducting reforms — evidenced by the fact that he failed to consider overhauling Taipower’s management structure before reaching into the public’s pockets to pay for the company’s losses — it looks like the pressure on the government is not enough.