One political scientist has said that populism has a positive side as it creates enthusiasm for the political process, so that people who have never before participated in politics start to do so. However, this is participation in a kind of “anti-politics,” blind to the art of pragmatic, conflict management-oriented political compromise. If legislators’ allowances are simply slashed on this occasion before public attention shifts to the next issue the press latches on to without further exploring legislators’ funding or the mechanisms by which they go about their duties, reform will stall; something that would make liwei lawmakers perfectly happy.
The number of assistants legislators have and the way they are hired has yet to be reviewed, but this deserves as much attention as that of unscrupulous employers pocketing their assistants’ overtime pay. The worst thing about it is how it detracts from the legislator’s ability to do their job of monitoring the government and creating effective legislation. This is because certain legislators take on their allotted headcount and pocket the lion’s share of the subsidy, sometimes only retaining a solitary legislative assistant, with the remaining staff handing out cash donations to various causes and running errands within the constituency.
Last year, Academia Sinica published a set of legislative reform recommendations. These included limting the number of administrative assistants to within a third of total staff, with no limitation on how many were family members. The other two thirds being legislative assistants who could only be hired if they have a certain level of experience and education. Are Taiwanese smart enough to take advantage of this opportunity as a trigger for legislative reform?
Legislators are expected to supervise the government properly. In the same way, the public and the press should watch them closely, so they can understand the causes of the legislative chaos in the country.
Reform should be instigated to figure out how legislators can be made to monitor the government on the public’s behalf, rather than just resorting to populism to distract public resentment over the failure of salaries to rise. Otherwise, for every 1 or 2 million NT dollars you refuse the person, they will find another way to take 10 times that amount from the national coffers.
In the end, it will still be the public that loses.
Pan Han-shen is a central executive committee member of the Green Party Taiwan.
Translated by Paul Cooper