Mon, Sep 03, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Civil servants need more life skills

By Du Yu 杜宇

During typhoons, Taiwanese are hit hard by vegetable price hikes. As a result, the public demands that the government take concrete action to stabilize prices to ease stress in times of floods and landslides. In the past, while senior government leaders promised to hand out strict penalties to those who arbitrarily raise the price of goods during typhoons, they often ended up doing nothing, citing a lack of actual evidence. This created a lot of public discontent.

During the most recent typhoon, public pressure forced the Council of Agriculture to send staff to supermarkets to monitor vegetable prices. However, they ended up miscalculating prices, which damaged the reputations of the businesses involved and eventually led to an apology.

The idiom “the devil is in the detail” comes to mind

This may seem like a clumsy mistake on the part of the officials, but it highlights just how out of touch agricultural officials are with the state of Taiwan’s agriculture, the general cost of things and in particular, vegetable prices. This will inevitably make the public suspicious of the expertise of the council — Taiwan’s highest agricultural administrative body.

This issue makes matters all that much worse for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) who is already suffering from abysmally low public support. Senior government officials cannot afford to ignore this problem. They must identify the crux of the matter, humbly reflect on where they have gone wrong and try to improve things. This is really the only way the government can win back the trust of the public and farmers.

Shortcomings in the marketing and distribution system for agricultural goods has become a nightmare for Taiwan’s farmers, and the problem of middlemen who jack up the prices of vegetables has never been solved. The council is often criticized. It is said that its officials hold their meetings and draw up policies from air-conditioned offices in Taipei, making it difficult for farmers to submit complaints. They are out of touch with the actual conditions of farmers.

In addition, many of the policies supposed to benefit farmers often fail to please and instead irritate them. The problem is made worse by the fact that many government officials cannot communicate effectively with farmers. Many of the policy goals of officials and academics are not met because the government is worried about the political implications a change of policy could have.

This not only means that problems remain unsolved, but the government’s credibility also gets hurt and people begin to worry about the future of Taiwan’s agriculture.

Given this, on top of the need for central government officials to be more pragmatic and efficient in stabilizing prices, government leaders should improve the quality of the services provided by agricultural officials. They should stop the politicized visits to rural areas and should try to recreate the glorious days of the Sino-American Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction — the council’s predecessor — which was highly appreciated and trusted by farmers.

In addition, they should organize lifelong learning classes for civil servants and invite academics and other experts to teach them group psychology and the skills necessary for communicating with farmers. They could offer practical tests in the skills they need. Tests could be given to civil servants working in the field of agriculture on issues like agricultural negotiations, laws, trade and marketing and the overall state of agricultural affairs.

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