Government officials and politicians rightfully deserve plaudits for being responsive to public grievances and for making amends and changing policies to better meet public expectations.
However, it is a different story if these so-called adjustments, lacking true substance, are proposed merely as acts to score “brownie points” and to fish for fame and compliments all the while shifting public attention from real and pressing issues.
The public must have their doubts over the announcement made by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on Tuesday. In the face of criticism over high government expenses amid the struggling economy, Ma has said he is willing to slash his special state affairs fund by a quarter, or NT$10 million (US$342,000), starting next year. He added that he hopes the move will put an end to partisan squabbling over government spending and that all political parties can move on and work together to help the nation out of its economic problems.
Indeed, anyone who has the nation’s best interests at heart does not wish to see the country consumed by political wrangles. However, does Ma truly think that by cutting his discretionary fund that he has adequately addressed public dissatisfaction?
First, as the opposition has pointed out, the reduction of the president’s discretionary fund by NT$10 million merely brings the total fund back to the NT$30 million it stood at when Ma came into office in May 2008.
Second, the true pointer to public discontent lies not in the total sum of the fund but in how the president spends taxpayers’ money. Many will have a vivid memory of remarks made last week by Premier Sean Chen who said that Ma has donated more than NT$75 million to charities over the years, exceeding the salary he has earned since he came to office in 2008. Skeptics may have reason to question whether the donations Ma made came from the state affairs fund. The public is also reminded how, as a result of prosecutors’ 2006 investigation into Ma’s special allowance fund during his time as Taipei mayor from 1998 to 2006, some of the 3,754 receipts uncovered were for purchases of items such as breakfast and women’s underwear. This may lead some to doubt how scrupulous Ma is in using the president’s discretionary fund and in separating public usage from private spending.
In case the president needs a reminder, during a forum with Transparency International Chinese Taipei held at the Presidential Office in May 2009, Ma pledged to make the spending of his discretionary fund transparent, adding that he had considered making the details of spending public, with weekly online posts.
Three years have passed and there has been no public accounting of the spending.
If Ma, fond of lecturing government officials “to feel the pain of the people,” can truly empathize with the struggles of the public, then he should fulfill his 2008 campaign pledge and donate half of his wages for failing to achieve the goals of his “6-3-3” campaign pledge — GDP growth of 6 percent, an unemployment rate of less than 3 percent and a per capita income of US$30,000.
Ma may have won re-election this year, but until he can honor his campagin pledges he remains a head of state whose credibility is increasingly being questioned by the public with each passing day.