The corruption scandal involving former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世) has been viewed by many media outlets as President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) last line of defense — if the government loses its clean image, it has nothing left.
It is surprising to see the media reacting like this to a recently re-elected president. Ma has not become the focus of media attention because of his constant promotion of the “golden decade” policy aimed at reviving the economy, but because of a corruption scandal.
Even former vice president Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), who recently stepped down, said at a forum last month that the government’s lack of crisis awareness could delay policymaking and responses to it, and that the myth on fairness and justice could damage the trust between government and business.
Siew’s criticism of Ma and the myth of fairness and justice took aim at the capital gains tax on securities transactions and the fuel and electricity price hikes.
With his long-term financial and economic experience and important business connections, Siew knows there are numerous obstacles ahead if Ma wants to push through these two policies. Does Ma really believe the myth about fairness and justice? Not necessarily.
Perhaps the reason the policies are so unpopular can be found in the other point made by Siew: The lack of crisis awareness that hampers policy making and government responses.
Did Ma really give thorough consideration to the challenges a capital gains tax might encounter and how best to respond to those challenges? Did his team run a scenario analysis?
As the Cabinet’s draft was repeatedly changed by legislators it became clear that Ma’s team was making up its plans as it went along and had no backup plan. It failed to learn the lessons of the failed second-generation National Health Insurance program where the government performed just as perfunctorily.
This is also true about the controversy surrounding US beef.
At first, the government deliberately made the issue look less sensitive than it was and tried to disconnect it from the Taiwan-US free trade talks. It thought that by letting the Department of Health arrange a few public hearings, academics and experts would endorse the decision, the public would believe them and legislators from both camps would support it.
When experts, the public and lawmakers all attacked the policy, the government gave up any attempts at rational persuasion and switched from saying that it had set no preconditions, respected professionalism, had no timetable and had made no commitment to the US, to taking a clear stance and issuing threats.
In terms of the capital gains tax, the government does not insist on fairness and justice and on the US beef issue it pays lip service to “free trade,” but lacks a comprehensive standpoint. Why else would the officials propose the separation of beef and pork to comfort pig farmers?
US President Barack Obama’s administration recently gained a major victory on the issue of health insurance.
Although many people were pessimistic prior to the US Supreme Court’s ruling, believing it could end Obama’s political career, he never changed his belief in health insurance.
His administration has introduced more convenient and transparent medical information and services, making the public feel the government really is reforming the medical care system.
He has actively promoted “open government” with the country’s medical and public health branches changing fast and becoming more open.
In the US, where many place the freedom to choose above all else, there is greater opposition to health insurance than there is to the capital gains tax in Taiwan.
Still, Obama never stopped believing in fairness and justice or the need to push for reform. He has repeatedly defended his policy to the public and taken concrete action to make people see that he is making a real effort.
Has Ma made even one-tenth of Obama’s effort, despite all his claims about pushing for reform?
Lacking crisis awareness, determination and the capacity to reform, a clean image is all that Ma has left.
Now even that image is being questioned. The outlook for the next four years does not look too good.
Ku Er-teh is a freelance writer.
Translated By Eddy Chang
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