The proposals of opposition parties to punish top government officials with pay cuts in the face of the nation’s economic slowdown and rising unemployment have garnered wide support from people looking for a more competent government and a better life, regardless of political affiliation. Unfortunately, the proposals were voted down in the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-dominated Legislative Yuan on Friday.
Of course, people understand that cutting the salaries of top officials will not help to boost Taiwan’s economy. They also realize that the government must urgently cut back unnecessary spending, adopt reform measures and push forward policies that set people’s livelihoods as the top priority.
However, the support for the pay-cuts proposals reflects the public’s mounting disappointment over the government’s handling of economic issues and sends a clear message that the government needs to feel some of the public’s pain during the current economic downturn.
The issue has once again raised concerns about political bickering only two weeks after the legislature voted down a motion of no confidence against Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) in a measure initiated by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Whether opposition parties will table more proposals to challenge President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government remains to be seen. However, what is clear is that constant political confrontation does not help the economy.
Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) offered a thoughtful remark on Friday about a possibly negative effect of the opposition’s proposals to cut high-ranking government officials’ salaries. Doing so, Lee said, would badly damage their morale and discourage them from serving the country because their salaries are already lower than those of their peers in other countries.
According to local media reports, Lee said the solution to the nation’s economic woes did not lie in redressing the performance of top government officials, who were the same people serving the country when he was president. Instead, the real solution is to ask the government to implement economic measures efficiently and, more importantly, demand new leadership, he was quoted as telling the press.
In reality, asking top government officials to take a pay cut during difficult times may represent some basic democratic principles, such as asking top officials to bear their share of responsibility. With most of the public suffering during this economic downturn, there is no reason why top officials should be immune from such suffering.
On the other hand, this practice could also be a bad bet given the difficulties the government already faces in recruiting professionals and nurturing talent. If such a situation continues, the government will be left with only mediocre and incompetent officials.
With these factors in mind and putting politics aside, the government should realize that one way to make decisionmaking more efficient and competent is to replace poorly performing Cabinet officials in charge of economy-related departments with officials who have more economic sense and expertise. This is something on which lawmakers across party lines — including KMT legislators Ting Shou-chung (丁守中) and Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾) — have agreed.
Another option is a complete Cabinet reshuffle, which will demand a bold and resolute premier who is able to remove incapable ministers, even in defiance of opposition from his own boss.
However, given Chen’s disposition and his performance thus far, let’s just keep our fingers crossed that he will transform into the kind of politician we want.