Nobody could accuse President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of a lack of confidence in his own abilities. Not even news that his popularity rating has now sunk to 19 percent could dent his belief that he is doing a good job of running the country. For him, the problem is that the public simply does not understand the government’s policies or how well they are working. For him, it is a failure of getting the message across. This is why the Cabinet is currently racking its brains trying to work out how best to package its policies and spin its achievements.
The much-derided “Economic Power-up Plan” ad, the brainchild of former Executive Yuan spokesman Hu Yu-wei (胡幼偉), was removed by YouTube after netizens complained that it was fraudulent, in what was a rather unfortunate first for the government. It tried to play it down, opting for the Hu-esque excuse of claiming the ad had fulfilled its purpose of attracting attention to the stimulus plan, and that there was no need to broadcast it anymore.
Now the Cabinet has come up with an even stranger plan: It wants to start a Facebook campaign to “unleash the potential of viral marketing” to spread its message online using social media. It also wants each ministry to set up its own Facebook fanclub, and it will give out rewards and sanctions depending on how many “fans” each ministry accumulates. Even before the campaign has started it is causing untold headaches for government officials.
Imagining that you can equate hits on Facebook with performance in government is just wrong-minded. You cannot translate these into some kind of measure of what the public thinks of how well individual ministries are doing. It is good that the government is trying to communicate its policies to the public, but it also has to be able to distinguish between the sounds of applause and booing.
The trouble with the achievements the government is so proud of is who they benefit, or don’t, as the case may be. It has allowed the import of US beef, but US beef is expensive and not the sort of thing most consumers can afford to put on the table. It has secured US visa-waiver status, but people are not going to rush out and fly to the US for a holiday just because it is now easier to do so. Yes, it is a breakthrough of sorts, but only a few people will benefit from it. It has reduced tariffs for certain kinds of fruit, but if government officials were to get out of their offices and look around the wet markets and supermarkets dotted around the city, they would find that these reductions have not translated into lower prices: the benefit is being pocketed by the importers, not the consumer. And postponing an increase in the minimum wage, while popular among employers, has angered millions of workers.
Then there is the rising unemployment rate, the energy price hikes and the drop in average salaries to the level they were 20 years ago: This is the kind of thing that is impacting the lives of ordinary people. And just as people are hearing that the Labor Pension Fund and other pension schemes are in danger of going bankrupt, it has been revealed that retired military personnel, teachers and public servants are not only to receive monthly pension payments equal to almost 90 percent of the salary they were paid when working, in addition to an 18 percent preferential interest rate on their savings, but that they can also expect a year-end bonus equal to 1.5 months’ salary. This news has angered around 70 percent of the population, who want to see this bonus, which is not required by law, scrapped.
The government believes its low popularity ratings are because of its own failure to communicate what it is doing right, but its attempts to blow its own horn are infuriating. People want to drum into Ma and his government that “it’s not the PR, stupid ... it’s your policies and your inability to govern properly.”
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