Reviving the nation’s economy is the government’s top priority this year, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said on Wednesday in his New Year’s Day address, titled “Working in Unity to Bolster the Economy.”
“I’m keenly aware that everyone is concerned about the economy, and that the state of the economy is the key to the well-being of the people,” he said. “At the start of this new year, I promise all my fellow countrymen that this administration’s top priority is to do all that can be done to achieve economic growth. Our most important task… is to lead our vibrant private sector in an all-out campaign for economic growth, so that we can make this the year of Taiwan’s economic breakthrough.”
As the nation ushered in the new year, it is surely comforting and encouraging to see the president, with a look of resolute determination on his face and his fist in the air, pledging the revitalization of the nation’s economy.
However, the president has a poor track record of translating pledges into concrete results.
On Nov. 29, 2007, Ma, the then-presidential candidate of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), unveiled his “i-Taiwan 12 projects” economy platform, pledging to put the economy “on the front burner” if elected. At that time, he also said that opening up direct links would help boost Taiwan’s economy.
On Sept. 18, 2008, four months into his first term as president, Ma appointed then-vice president Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) as convener of a new panel to advise the Presidential Office on financial and economic affairs and reiterated the government’s determination to improve the economy. In July, 2009, the president lauded his administration’s consumer voucher program and talked of how the scheme had achieved its objective of expanding domestic demand and stimulating consumer spending, which had led to the restoration of consumer confidence. However, the effectiveness of the program proved to be short-lived, which led Ma to tell the nation in 2010 that “the most important task this year is to increase employment.”
On Feb. 2, 2011, Ma said as part of his Lunar New Year greetings that his number one wish for the Year of the Rabbit was that the economy would improve, with more jobs being created and the working population enjoying full employment. Then came 2012, when Ma again pledged an all-out effort on the economic front, promising that his government would create a national happiness index and make Taiwanese wealthier.
The KMT used to mock the former Democratic Progressive Party government, saying it was running the country with beautiful and memorable slogans. Ma’s latest slogan of “Working in Unity to Bolster the Economy,” in addition to his many previous promises and less-than-stellar economic initiatives, raises the question that if this does not constitute “running the country by slogan,” then what does?
Boosting the nation’s economy has almost always been at the top of the Ma administration’s agenda. Despite the government’s claim of GDP growth, little benefit appears to have trickled down to the public. What the public sees on a daily basis is the ever-widening income gap, the erosion of the middle class, a high unemployment rate and a stalled economy where salaries for regular workers have regressed to the levels of 15 years ago. One cannot help but wonder whether the president has been taking the public for fools by repeating the same economic pledges year after year without backing up his promises.