The public has long held the preconceived view that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has a better grasp of economic issues than other parties. This might have been true when then-president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) and his technocratic government kick-started the economy in the 1980s. It was true when then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) safely steered Taiwan through the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s. However, today, there is President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). Looking at his economic team, many people are wondering where all the KMT talent went and why Ma is employing these people who have brought Taiwan’s economy to this pass.
“The KMT is better at handling the economy.”
The reason this sentence now belongs in the past, can no longer be applied and has been thoroughly disproved is that the leader no longer devotes himself wholeheartedly to the economy.
Remember how in April 1986, as Chiang’s health was already deteriorating and he had been given a pacemaker, keeping him from presiding over the KMT’s Central Standing Committee for two weeks, international oil prices kept falling and the Cabinet had cut fuel prices three times.
Despite that, the Taiwanese economy did not perform well, being kept back by sluggish economic growth in the US, and the legislature criticized the Cabinet for its inability to fully reflect the drop in oil prices.
Chiang, who still had not recovered, instructed his vice president in his home to once again review the mechanism for determining oil prices. Following his insistence, the Cabinet announced a fourth reduction of fuel prices out of concern for the needs of the public.
The financial crisis that started in Thailand in 1997 and spread across Southeast Asia affected several Taiwanese companies in 1998. This had an impact on the economy and the entire business sector.
At the time, Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) was premier in the Lee administration. Lee, who had been hospitalized because of a severe cold, was lying in his hospital bed, frantically going through piles of financial and economic data. He summoned Siew to his hospital bed on several evenings and even handed him a thick report on economic policy, requesting that the Cabinet quickly stabilize the situation. Useful or not, these actions should all be affirmed for their wholehearted devotion and pragmatism.
So how does Ma measure up to his two KMT predecessors? If we were to review Ma’s agenda and public statements after he saw off the foreign dignitaries after his May 20 re-inauguration, the only way to describe it would be to say that he has been all over the place like a blind bat. During a rare weekend off, Ma went to a temple, visited a school and attended a groundbreaking ceremony as well as a book-launching event, and he has taken the lead in repeating that the impact of the fuel and electricity price increases has been diminished.
Chiang and Lee continued to run the country when they were sick; Ma is healthy as an ox, yet he is not paying any attention to his real duties, and this is very confusing. One can only wonder why none of his bureaucrats tell him that just running around and showing up everywhere does not solve any problems.
Leaders lead, subordinates follow. The Council for Economic Planning and Development used to take the lead in setting national economic policy, but council Minister Yiin Chii-ming (尹啟銘) insists on playing the clown, constantly battling the media on his blog or engaging in public attacks on the opposition.