Fri, Dec 29, 2017 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Passport mishap requires reflection

For a government agency that has to deal with numerous threats, such as losing the nation’s handful of diplomatic allies and periodic incidents of Taiwanese delegations being expelled from international events, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has found itself in even deeper trouble after mistakingly using a photograph of Washington Dulles International Airport in its new biometric passport design.

It took the ministry’s Bureau of Consular Affairs almost three years to design and prepare for the launch of the new version of the passport on Monday. Its primary aim was to enhance its anticounterfeit features, given that the last time it was updated was in 2008.

Unfortunately, all it took for something celebratory to go miserably wrong was one careless mistake by a designer — who selected a misidentified photo online and used it as the basis for her draft sketch — followed by oversight by a number of ministry officials who failed to double-check and spot the mistake.

The consequence is that the NT$80 million (US$2.68 million) spent printing 200,000 new passports has gone to waste, with more money needed to redesign and reprint them.

What is more serious than the monetary loss is that the incident has undermined Taiwan’s international credibility. The reason why Taiwanese passport holders are able to enjoy visa-free or landing visa treatment in more than 160 countries, including the US and EU territories, is because of the nation’s stringent passport production and issuance process.

How much trust will the international community place in the Republic of China (ROC) passport, knowing that not one person responsible for overseeing the new passport’s design and production was able to distinguish between a US airport and Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport?

However, what is done cannot be undone. What is needed is a careful look at the organizational structure of the bureau to avoid a recurrence of similar incidents, rather than simply letting a few heads roll as a show of the foreign ministry’s collective remorse — which is exactly what it is doing now.

On Wednesday, both the bureau’s incumbent leader, Agnes Chen (陳華玉), and her predecessor, Representative to Canada Kung Chung-chen (龔中誠), were demoted over the passport mishap.

Chen has accepted the punishment with grace. On the other hand, Kung, who left the bureau in September last year after heading it since 2013, refused to take the demotion lying down, saying that Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lee (李大維) was the one who signed off on the passport’s final design.

The problem with Taiwan’s deep-seated political culture of axing one or more high-ranking officials to solve a crisis is that it is not only ineffective, but it could also deal a crippling blow to the government’s morale.

Neither Chen, Kung nor Lee single-handedly made the mistake. That mistake should fall on the shoulders of each and every person who had their hands on the project over the past three years.

Firing them all solves nothing, because their positions would simply be filled by someone who is also used to doing things the same way that got everyone into this mess in the first place.

The foreign ministry should stop pointing fingers in a desperate attempt to alleviate public fury. It should instead carefully and extensively examine what kinds of organizational flaws could have resulted in this incident.

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