Sun, May 07, 2017 - Page 6 News List

There is no harm in advising our politicians

By Peng Ming-min 彭明敏

“Suggestions” in the sense of questions or opinions directed toward the government — including all government agencies up to the president — can be publicly promoted in letters submitted to media as editorials or political commentaries, but they can also be made in private communications.

Are such suggestions useful? It can be concluded with great confidence that the absolute majority never receive an official response.

Even those who make the suggestions often do not believe that their suggestions will be adopted. Knowing that, why do people still bother to put them forward? Just like demands for freedom of expression, this is one of the mysterious aspects of human nature.

Some suggestions sound reasonable, but it is still unlikely that they will be adopted. The reason is complicated. The formal justification is that there is “no budget” or that there are “legal difficulties.”

There is also the bureaucratic culture of “the less trouble the better” — the way we do things has always worked well, so why change?

It is one more task and people are too lazy to do it.

In addition, adopting the suggestions of strangers seems to imply that we are incompetent; we would lose face and our self-esteem does not allow that to happen.

Some governments, for instance in the US, seem less likely to respond to public suggestions, but treat responding to private letters as a matter of public relations.

The US Department of State has staff dedicated to replying to such letters. Countless letters from all over the world — unless they are abusive, obscene or unreasonable, or ask for money, — receive a polite and vague response.

If a Taiwanese person writes a suggestion in all earnestness to the US president, they are likely to receive a polite and ambiguous reply. If the person shows off the letter to boast of having directly communicated with the US president, that would be farcical.

Does this really mean that it is useless to make suggestions? Not necessarily.

Suggestions create an awareness of an issue; reading suggestions can create a more in-depth understanding of a problem and increase knowledge, which can enlighten the public. To enrich civic knowledge is to improve the knowledge of society as a whole.

This is why I was so candid about Taiwan’s first direct presidential election in 1996.

Despite knowing that I would not be elected, I still decided to run for president because I knew that the general public had been brainwashed for many years, so they could not see that there was an alternative path.

I took the opportunity to break this long-standing idea, and I hope that my actions left some trace that remain today.

All public suggestions help broaden the public’s view and fill a social function.

I appeal to the public to not let itself be discouraged and to keep making their suggestions. God bless everyone.

Peng Ming-min was an adviser to former president Chen Shui-bian.

Translated by Lin Lee-kai

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