For some time now Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) has been the primary target for the opposition when they vent their anger and frustration about the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government’s poor performance, which has been steering the economy downhill. While Chen, as the nation’s highest administrative official, rightfully deserves criticism for ill-conceived policies and poor administrative efficiency and execution, a close examination of the situation leaves one feeling sympathetic for him. He is just taking the heat for President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) irresponsible leadership.
In a recent interview with the Chinese-language Business Weekly, Chen acknowledged that he is not a successful premier. He also said he did not think he could do the job right and had initially declined Ma’s offer of the premiership.
“My work before was like a captain of a boat. However, the Cabinet is like a fleet and I need to learn to be not a boat captain, but a fleet commander,” the former Financial Supervisory Commission chairman said.
While Chen should be lauded for his bluntness and honesty — commendable traits that are scarce among politicians — his remarks nonetheless sent chills down the spine.
If the premier readily admits that he is not doing a good job and is still learning how to lead the fleet, so to speak, how is the public supposed to feel under the rudderless leadership of the supposed “admiral of the fleet”?
Before being so quick to chastise Chen, what about Ma, who appointed him?
Chen surely deserves criticism for the Cabinet’s less-than-stellar performance and he should bear responsibility squarely if the incompetent and controversial personnel on his teams were of his own choosing and if he gave the final nod on the various ill-judged policies the government proposed. However, the truth is — no matter how much Chen and Ma seek to deny it — Chen does not actually have the final say in whom he wants to be in his Cabinet nor the direction of policies proposed. Yet he is the one taking the heat from the lawmakers on the legislative floor and from the public. Meanwhile, Ma appears comfortable hiding behind Chen’s “firewall” to avoid any backlash from controversial personnel arrangements and policy proposals he himself proposed or chose.
The pattern is all too familiar. One recalls how newly appointed Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Lin Join-sane (林中森) last month also revealed that, aware of his lack of knowledge and experience in cross-strait affairs, he initially declined Ma’s appointment, thinking he was not fit to take on the job. It was only with Ma’s repeated assurances that Lin said he eventually accepted the job.
These cases demonstrate the core of the nation’s problem: An irresponsible leader who holds power yet does not need to shoulder the responsibilities for any ill consequences.
The results? As former vice president Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) said in his speech last week at National Chengchi University, Taiwan’s current sluggish economy is a situation that was very rarely seen in the past 50 years — one in which all corners of the nation are permeated by a strong sense of helplessness and anxiety.
Blame for the suffering of the people and the nation’s reduced competitiveness can be laid squarely in the hands of the incompetent.