It is rare that the head of one branch of the government should directly attack the head of another branch, but that is what Control Yuan President Wang Chien-shien did last week, when he said President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) ran the risk of turning himself into one of the most incompetent presidents in history. And that was even before the Cabinet gave the thumbs-down to the Council of Labor Affairs’ proposal to increase the minimum wage and then set absurd criteria for raising it.
Wang wrote in an article that bureaucratic mindlessness was defining Ma’s legacy, citing as an example Ministry of the Interior officials who kept insisting that care centers for vegetative patients with 60 or more patients meet the minimum requirement of one bathroom for every six patients to be licensed, even though patients in vegetative states cannot use bathrooms. It took years of petitioning from concerned families before the officials finally agreed to accept reality and reduce the number of required bathrooms.
As president and the person who had chosen the head of the interior ministry and other Cabinet agencies, the buck stopped with Ma, Wang implied.
Even if you cannot fault Ma for the ineptness of lower-level ministry staffers, he certainly can be held accountable for the appointment of Premier Sean Chen and, therefore, the minimum wage ruling.
That same inability to accept reality that created a logjam in the interior ministry also tainted the Cabinet’s decision on Wednesday to put off a plan to raise the minimum monthly wage by NT$267. Chen said the minimum wage would be raised only if GDP grows by more than 3 percent for two quarters in a row or the unemployment rate drops below 4 percent for two consecutive months.
Welcome to Fantasy Island — you can guess who is playing the role of Ricardo Montalban and who is guesting as Herve Villechaize this year. However, unlike on Fantasy Island, dreams rarely come true here. This is the island where government officials like to make expansive promises about the nation becoming some kind of Asian-Pacific hub that will outperform its neighbors and wow investors enough that they will want to set up headquarters — and continue to make such promises (though with different hubs) despite years of not being able to meet a single goal. They keep waiting for the next planeload of visitors to arrive to make those dreams come true — even though planeloads of Chinese tourists have yet to boost the economy as promised.
Taiwan is having a hard time keeping its GDP growth above 1 percent right now, while the unemployment rate during Ma’s time in office has never gone below the 4 percent mark, so 3 percent GDP growth truly looks like a fantasy right now. Chen said he was confident that the conditions could be met, even though he was not willing to set a timeframe and few outside the government appear as optimistic. He said the decision was made after considering “all factors,” but it seems as if the only factors that counted were those put forth by big business.
And if that were not enough for Taiwan’s beleaguered working class, hot on the heels of the minimum wage announcement came the news that the government is planning to relax restrictions on the recruitment of foreign workers to help revive the economy. The one who made that announcement was Minister Without Portfolio Kuan Chung-ming (管中閔), who just happens to be one of two men charged by Chen to review the minimum monthly wage proposal and who said it should be deferred until the economy was better. It goes without saying that the foreign worker plan includes the stipulation that they not be subject to the minimum monthly wage rule as stipulated in the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法).