Tue, Jul 24, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Political elite are blind to fine line

By Yang Tai-shuenn 楊泰順

After the corruption scandal involving former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世) surfaced, there has been widespread criticism of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) for his lack of judgement in choosing officials. Apart from expressing deep regret, Ma also said that he would learn from this lesson and would be “more careful” when choosing officials in the future. However, not only must government officials be chosen from a broader source to avoid complaints of favoritism, government efficiency and future election strategies must also be taken into consideration. Even if Ma is more careful, it will probably be difficult to keep similar scandals from happening again.

In addition to Ma having taken notice of Lin’s performance, it is a well known fact that another reason Lin was gifted such a high position after failing to win a legislative seat was that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) wanted him in a senior Cabinet post in the hope that he would be able to help the party regain the Greater Kaohsiung mayoralty.

Maybe the expectation of further elections made Lin, holding the third-highest position in the Cabinet, worry about campaign funding, and this lead to his alleged misdeeds. Someone unable to maintain their moral integrity has only themselves to blame, but the responsibility for this outcome also lies squarely at the feet of the governing party, which uses official positions as part of its re-election strategies.

Elections are a key component of a democratic system and since the allocation of national resources must be managed by bureaucrats and political appointees, the ability to stop them from using that power to manipulate elections determines the quality of a democracy. A look at successful democracies shows that a thin red line exists in an attempt to separate those in charge of election or party duties from administrative officials on the other.

US democracy is notorious for its spoils sharing system, but the US constitution prohibits members of Congress from taking on administrative office, which is also better paid. In addition, Congress takes part in the government’s decision-making and members of Congress have a high percentage of re-election. These factors mean that politicians with established campaign experience seldom choose to enter the administrative system. Among the few that do, hardly any choose to once again take part in local elections. This separation ensures that the administrative system gradually develops a system for appraising government performance and enforcing administrative neutrality to diminish spoil sharing.

The UK Cabinet system merges administrative and legislative affairs, so anyone who wants to become a Cabinet minister must first be elected to parliament. It is hard to differentiate between election and administrative affairs, but after many years of democratic experience, the main political parties have devised strategies for separating party duties from administrative duties when it comes to people’s promotions. When members of parliament are first elected, they are supposed to choose a political direction based on their aspirations and personality. Those who like making friends and forming close working relationships with others normally choose to enter the party side of things and establish themselves within their party, while those fond of researching and writing laws and are good debaters normally choose to get into the administrative side of things in the hope of entering the Cabinet in the future. Once a choice has been made, there is very little contact between the two groups.

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