To see the premier of a country getting involved in the maintenance of public toilets is a rare phenomenon. However, when it was reported that one of the toilets in the men’s public restroom at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall had been out of order for six months, Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) immediately called Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) and demanded that the matter be promptly attended to. This action has been the subject of widely different interpretations.
Some have said that a premier who gets involved in the management of toilets instead of attending to national issues is way out of line. Others have been of the opinion that everything should be done well, regardless of its scope, and that it is a good thing for the premier to care about what the public thinks, seeing to it that the matter was handled promptly.
A broken toilet really is a small matter, and it is quite astonishing that it would require the call of a busy premier to get it fixed. The careless attitude of civil servants is having a serious effect on government efficiency — the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall is one of Taiwan’s main tourist attractions, and it is a disgrace to the whole nation that it would take six months to fix one of its public toilets.
In the past, Jiang headed the Cabinet’s Research, Development and Evaluation Commission, so he is well aware that planning, execution and evaluation are necessary aspects of effective and efficient administration. The government’s poor performance record is intimately related to the fact that these issues are not managed and controlled well.
Government officials excel at writing reports, and every policy report is eloquent and voluminous, stating that the economic growth rate is high, the unemployment rate is low, and price increases are being kept at a minimum. However, the reality is very different. The economic growth rate is repeatedly adjusted downward, economic development plans are repeatedly changed, construction projects are delayed and budgets are increased.
Officials ignore the fact that their plans never meet their targets and civil servants’ performance evaluations, salaries and year-end bonuses remain unchanged. When Council for Economic Planning and Development Minister Kuan Chung-ming (管中閔) had his bonus withheld for his continuous adjustments to the economic growth rate, he said that he did not care. This devil-may-care attitude among civil servants is frightening.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said he is working hard to improve the economy, but years have gone by without any improvement. Instead, the average salary has dropped to the level it was 16 years ago, and the public regards Ma’s “6-3-3” economic campaign pledge from 2008 to be a bad joke when civil servants are incapable of improving the situation. Seeing the government unravel, it is not surprising that its approval ratings are plumbing new depths. For a long time, flagging government efficiency has been the main stumbling block for Taiwanese competitiveness. Although Taiwanese industry is both effective and flexible, it is not much use when it locks horns with snail-paced government bureaucracy.
The premier should not be concerned with broken toilets, but he definitely should be concerned with the work of civil servants. The Cabinet should take the lead in improving government efficiency by dealing with the toilet issue. Jiang told civil servants loud and clear that if they cannot do their job and execute their plans and programs effectively, they will be taken to task, criticized and punished.