Spectacular New Year’s Eve countdown parties and firework shows have become an annual ritual. However, people have started asking whether local governments should continue lavishing tens of millions of New Taiwan dollars on one night, given the years of financial difficulty and so many people still in need.
They also wonder whether it would make more sense to introduce variety to the celebrations, so that the same activities do not occur in every city.
These concerns demonstrate Taiwanese have the generosity, good sense and creativity to identify true needs versus extravagance, in their attempts to usher in the new year in a way that is not superficial.
However, does the government engage in similar self-reflection?
It seems that compared with the public, policymakers and government officials lack creativity about the nation’s development. Not understanding what people are really concerned about poses a real national problem going forward.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said in his New Year’s Day address that revitalizing the nation’s economy is the government’s top priority this year, and that he has invited former vice president Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) to organize a special task force to help push Taiwan’s entry into two economic blocs under negotiation — the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
This is practically the same annual resolution Ma has made over the years, and this economic task force is no different to its many predecessors.
Clearly, the government has lost its ability to design innovative policies for the nation’s future.
However, a more serious problem for policymakers is that they have decided to focus solely on the economy, while pushing aside important national policy issues, such as taxation fairness, social justice and sustainable development.
The most glaring absence in Ma’s New Year’s Day speech was acknowledgment of the public outcry over recent food safety and industrial pollution scandals, and several controversial land grab cases.
If this is how Ma handles the public response to his government’s many economic initiatives over his two terms, he will find no policy breakthrough this year either.
If the government wants to keep the economy moving forward, it must listen to and better communicate with the public.
People want to have decent jobs, better wages and a growing economy, but they do not want government policies that only benefit big business and the elite, while the rest of us are left to live with fears of heavier taxation, unsafe food and environmental degradation.
Ma said in his speech that he hoped everyone would work in unity to boost the economy.
The opportunity exists, but the question is: Who is “everyone” in the government’s eyes. Does it mean ordinary people, or business tycoons and industry heavyweights?
The success of this approach also depends on whether the government can treat the public as close partners and take action in a balanced way.
If there has been soul-searching among Taiwanese, the government should also follow suit.