Tue, Oct 16, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Over-regulation hinders upgrading

By Chang Ching-ter 張錦特

You cannot run a first-class university without first-class teachers, and you cannot have a first-class country without top-notch civil servants. Most people probably appreciate that a nation’s standard of living can only keep improving if its industries are constantly upgraded, but many of those who have the power to make policy decisions tend to set things going in the wrong direction.

What has gone wrong with Taiwan?

Industrial upgrading is highly dependent on the availability of talented people, so let us consider some reasons why Taiwanese industry has failed to upgrade itself.

The first problem is that not enough value is placed on talented people, and they are not given the kind of jobs in which they could put their talents to the best use. For example, the government made a regulation to the effect that salaries paid to senior personnel in semi-governmental research bodies cannot be higher than those of government ministers. How can research institutions retain talented personnel when they are subject to such a regulation?

If any institution pays a slightly higher salary to anyone working in any particular post, those people get labeled as “fat cats,” no matter how great a contribution they make. It is no wonder, then, that outstanding talents go elsewhere.

Eager foreign governments have set up departments that work similarly to the headhunters of the business world. They seek to attract first-class talent from around the world by offering the best salaries, benefits and help with finding accommodation and setting themselves up.

However, no such department exists in Taiwan. To make matters worse, there are all kinds of limitations that make it very inconvenient for talented people to come and work in Taiwan.

You cannot run a first-class country without first-class civil servants. Salaries paid to civil servants in Taiwan compare poorly with the other “Asian tiger” economies. Although many people register to take the senior and junior civil service entry examinations each year, few of the applicants are graduates of top public institutions.

The reason is quite simple: civil servants’ salaries are not high enough to attract people of this caliber to join the civil service.

Furthermore, populism is on the rise, with politicians and commentators often making a big fuss about things like the 18 percent preferential interest rate on civil servants’ pensions and the size of their year-end relief payments. Judging from all the fuss, you would not have thought that those conditions were all set out in contracts signed between the government and civil servants many years ago.

This was the system that attracted them to take the entry exams to join the civil service and serve the country throughout their working lives. Now that these civil servants have retired, people are complaining that the system is unfair. If anything is unfair, it is the criticisms now being leveled against our retired civil servants. If civil servants’ salaries are dragged down by this kind of populism, we will soon see Taiwan turned into a third-rate country.

The second point is that the government keeps forbidding universities to increase their fees. If universities do not have enough financial resources, how can they hope to attract world-class teachers to work for them?

Without first-rate universities, how can Taiwan attract first-rate students to come and study here, and hopefully to stay here after graduation and help Taiwan to upgrade its industries, science and technology?

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