Reform has been a popular catchword of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) since he assumed office in May 2008.
As recently as last month at his re-inauguration, Ma, in his speech titled “Upholding ideals, working together for reform and creating greater well-being for Taiwan,” said: “If we want our nation to develop, then we must reform ... We absolutely cannot leave the hot-potato issues and heavy burdens to the next generation. I am keenly aware that the most important duty and mission of a re-elected president is to work with the people to forge greater well-being.”
Talk of reform is surely welcome and encouraging, because it suggests the intention of moving policies in directions that would better benefit the nation and its people.
However, good intentions are not enough. A quick glance at the so-called reforms and accomplishments claimed by the Ma government so far leaves many shaking their heads in disappointment.
Ma has on several occasions hailed the Agreement on Joint Cross-Strait Crime-Fighting and Mutual Judicial Assistance, signed in April 2009, as a significant achievement of his administration. Granted, since its implementation Taiwan has repatriated a number of suspected members of telephone and online fraud rings, but how effective has it been in repatriating major Taiwanese fugitives who are hiding in China? Not very.
For one, former legislator Lo Fu-chu (羅福助), convicted of securities violations, went missing 24 days before he was supposed to start a four-year prison term in April and was suspected of having absconded to China. While Taipei prosecutors said they had asked Chinese judicial authorities to detain Lo, nicknamed “Big Cat (大貓),” if he shows up in China, no word of any progress has been heard.
And how could we ever forget fugitive tycoon Chen Yu-hao , former chairman of the now defunct Tuntex Group, fled to China in 2001, leaving about NT$60 billion (US$2 billion) in unpaid bank loans. If the agreement is for real, why has Beijing not repatriated Chen, whom Chinese authorities have called a “model Taiwanese businessman in China” because of the taxes he pays to Beijing on his Chinese investments?
Then there was the amendment to the Anti-Corruption Act (貪汙治罪條例) pushed through by Ma’s Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) last year, which Ma praised as a reform that allowed prosecutors to demand that civil servants suspected of corruption declare the origins of their assets if the increase in their assets is disproportionate to the increase in their income in the three years following the allegations. Sound good? Well, there is a catch — civil servants suspected of corruption would first need to be brought up on charges before they are required to explain the origins of their suspicious assets or property. In other words, the amendment is only a half-hearted effort at reform.
As for the Ma administration’s recent proposed capital gains tax in the name of reform and a more equitable tax system, it has been dealt with hastily and has so far succeeded only in creating panic among investors and sending the TAIEX plunging. It would be utterly brazen of Ma to hail his government’s proposed capital gains tax as a reform when what it achieves in the end is superficial and fragmentary.
Ma has shown the public he is good at talking about reform, but the question remains: Can he walk the walk or is he merely fishing for fame?