Anyone who put their faith in a new Cabinet offering prospects of improved governance may have their hopes dashed in view of what took place at a Cabinet meeting over the weekend.
The informal gathering of Cabinet members on Sunday, called by Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), came after the recent, sweeping shake-up that saw six Cabinet members replaced.
Amid the public’s anxiety about the future and the nation’s well-being, a meeting of this sort certainly provided a great opportunity for the new Cabinet to thrash out ideas, outline visions and deliberate issues of concern to the nation. It also provided a perfect setting for each Cabinet member to present policy agendas and formulate solutions to issues from their respective agencies and therefore, at the very minimum, worked to restore public confidence in the government.
However, what took place at the meeting was extremely out of step with public expectations.
Other than the usual rhetoric urging Cabinet members to be brave while defending government policies and seeking public support for their policies, the main item summing up the gathering was a 25-point declaration issued by Jiang listing the disciplines by which all Cabinet members ought to abide.
Notable among these points was one the media has dubbed the “big-mouth clause,” which called for Cabinet members to exercise self-restraint in speaking publicly about government plans before a policy has been set in stone and about policies that fall outside their domains. Other highlights included urging Cabinet members to be “polite” while interacting with lawmakers and asking members to return lawmakers’ telephone calls within 24 hours.
Some observers may be quick to come to the premier’s defense, arguing that the 25-point outline is important, as it helps to ensure a unified front among Cabinet members when policies are presented.
However, one cannot help wondering whether the premier has anything more important to address other than lecturing Cabinet officials about what is perceived by many as “Politics 101”?
It did not go unobserved how Jiang seemingly spared no effort to flatter President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) by instructing Cabinet members to revisit and get familiar with his 2008 campaign white paper and so-called “golden decade” national development plan.
If — as the Executive Yuan’s very own Research, Development and Evaluation Commission claimed earlier this year — Ma has executed 97 percent of his campaign promises, what was Jiang’s point in demanding that officials read the whole white paper again, other than to fawn upon his supervisor?
The nation faces serious issues ranging from economic challenges — such as the quickly deteriorating labor market, record-high public debt, the still growing gap between rich and poor and overdependence on China — to concerns such as nuclear safety, food safety and social justice, to name just a few.
It is hoped that government officials on the taxpayer payroll would be reminded of their duty — which is to serve the nation — rather than occupy themselves with a fawning culture that delivers only empty promises.
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