Former presidential adviser George Huang (黃石城) has said that the posts of senior and national policy advisers were created during the authoritarian era just as medieval rulers created titles for their vassals.
Huang added that such positions can easily become a way of rewarding campaign donors and vote captains, and should therefore be abolished.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) does not seem to have taken this advice to heart. On Sunday, Tsai released her proposed list of 20 senior advisers, most of whom are about 80 years old. Her decision to continue a political tradition that allows abuse of power contradicts her platform of promoting transitional justice.
These advisory positions were created for senior politicians, military officers and party members who had lost their jobs, incomes and pensions after moving from China to Taiwan with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). However, there is now a comprehensive pension system for public servants and military personnel, and martial law was abolished long ago. Despite this, Article 15 of the Republic of China Office of the President Organization Act (中華民國總統府組織法) still stipulates that the Presidential Office should have up to 30 senior advisers and 90 national policy advisers. This arrangement is outdated and contrary to global trends.
While many democracies have advisers in their governments, they differ from Taiwan’s in that they are not appointed as a reward for political support and loyalty, but rather based on professional talent and expertise. For instance, the German chancellor’s office has four advisers in charge of immigration and refugees, culture and the media, intelligence affairs and the National Regulatory Control Council.
Other departments of the German government also have advisers who are specialists in different areas. For example, the Foreign Office has seven advisers covering areas ranging from disarmament, non-proliferation, human rights and humanitarian aid to cultural exchanges and border-control measures. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has two advisers who are experts on disabilities and social insurance. The Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection has one adviser focusing on human rights issues who represents Germany at the European Court of Human Rights.
During former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) eight years in office, his administration showed little regard for fiscal budgets and legal procedure, not to mention rules on hiring public servants. His administration often shrugged off its mistakes, leaving the nation with countless problems.
However, now is the time for change. Taiwan faces challenges, such as the impact of Donald Trump’s election as US president, youth unemployment, an aging population, a rising population of immigrant spouses, pro-independence and pro-unification conflict, a fiscal deficit, educational imbalance, diplomatic isolation and wasteful public spending.
These pressing problems go beyond what ministries can handle in their routine work. They require the president to use her powers to overcome interministerial conflicts and formulate comprehensive solutions with speed and expertise.
Article 15 allows the president to appoint senior and national policy advisers in an honorary capacity. It should be amended to allow the president to hire a certain number of professional senior and national policy advisers to help the government coordinate and consolidate its administrative personnel and material resources. Such a move would not only be practical, but also in line with Tsai’s goal of promoting transitional justice.
Lin Terng-yaw is a retired professor of law at Tunghai University.
Translated by Tu Yu-an
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