Some depressing figures recently released by the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) prompt the question whether President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), in the dead of night, ever finds his conscience stirring or is struck by guilt for having failed the people.
The data show that the unemployment rate rose for the third consecutive month last month to 4.31 percent — the worst among the “Asian Tiger” economies. Meanwhile, annual consumer price index (CPI) growth for last month marked the highest level since September 2008 with a rise of 2.46 percent. Second-quarter GDP contracted by 0.16 percent from a year earlier, the DGBAS reported, adding it has also cut the growth forecast for this year to 1.66 percent, from a previous estimate of 2.08 percent. Exports for the second quarter were US$4.34 billion lower than a year ago and the DGBAS has cut this year’s export revenue forecast by US$5.6 billion to about US$302.9 billion amid falling global demand.
The gloomy numbers seem to just keep coming. On Friday, the agency reported that the income gap remains relatively steady, noting that while the gap between the highest and lowest-income households decreased slightly last year, the ratio between the two groups would have reached 7.75 last year — the second-highest level on record — if social welfare subsidies and tax benefits were excluded from the calculations.
All these numbers cut a sharp — and rather ironic — contrast to the rosy picture Ma had painted for the voters during both of his presidential campaigns.
Ma may choose not to remember, but Taiwanese cannot forget his “6-3-3” electoral promise — 6 percent economic growth, unemployment of less than 3 percent and a US$30,000 per capita income within four years — which led to him being elected by a significant margin in March 2008, but ultimately failed so miserably. He later said the goal would be reached in 2016, but who really believes such promises anymore?
Also, what about the so-called “Golden Decade” policy that he touted during his re-election campaign? The policy was aimed at narrowing the wealth gap and bringing greater prosperity to the country as a whole, so this latest set of bleak numbers have many people wondering whether it will suffer the same fate as the “6-3-3” promise and become little more than another piece of trivia for the “Ma misspeaks” collection.
In addition, the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, whose merits the Ma administration has trumpeted so loudly, has thus far failed to generate palpable gains for the economy.
It might be a good thing to see a head of the state exuding confidence and offering grandiloquent visions for his nation, yet when all the promises turn out to be empty, those who suffer the consequences are the nation’s competitiveness and its people.
However, as the saying goes: better late than never.
All eyes are now on Ma, waiting to see whether he can deliver on his promises as he revamps his pledges. Otherwise, it will be only a matter of time before he realizes that the legacy he is seeking to build will be tarnished and he will be remembered as the president under whose terms all economic indicators reached record lows.