In September, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) asked his Cabinet to improve the economy within three months. That period expires tomorrow. This promise has been as well kept as his other promises, like the one about selling the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) ill-gotten assets and the infamous “6-3-3” campaign pledge to deliver GDP growth of 6 percent, an unemployment rate of less than 3 percent and achieve a per capita income of more than US$30,000.
A Taiwan Thinktank survey showed that 95.7 percent of respondents believe this policy is just another bounced check, 84.7 percent think the economic situation this year was bad and 68.1 percent are finding it difficult to get a job. As many as 89.1 percent of those polled consider the poverty gap to be big, 84.9 percent are dissatisfied with their salaries, 72.8 percent think the tax system is unfair and 63.9 percent are pessimistic about the future.
The majority of the population is finding it a struggle to get by and are resentful at the government’s lack of solutions. Many now regret voting to give Ma his second term when he had performed so poorly in his first. Those who voted for Ma might regret it now, but they will have put up with their choice for another three years.
The government is refusing to accept defeat. The Cabinet is looking for good news and asking individual departments to collect statistics that will give the public reasons to be cheerful. This shows how clueless officials in this government are: Facts and figures are not going to improve people’s lives. If the government wants to brag about a promising stock market and export sales figures, it had better hope these are not just the effect of the Christmas shopping season.
The government’s GDP growth forecast for next year is 3.8 percent, but it predicted a growth of 3 percent for this year, a figure that had to be adjusted downward each month until there were no guarantees it would reach even 1 percent. The evening edition of the United Daily News has an opinion poll asking if people feel their lives are improving. The number who said “yes” suddenly rose to 20 percent. Even the newspaper suspects someone is fiddling the figures. We wonder who that might be.
This comes as a surprise to nobody. The Cabinet’s economic stimulus plan is not stimulating anything. The government has not adjusted the interest rate, increased the money supply or changed the exchange rate, so there has been no improvement in the competitiveness of Taiwanese exports or an increase in import/export traffic. The government has not increased its budget and so has failed to stimulate domestic investment or consumption. No attempt has been made to reduce government debt or get the state accounts back to black, nor has anything been done to significantly improve the investment environment or relax financial regulations. All the government has done is pin its hopes on attracting Taiwanese businesses back home from China. Conservative measures such as these are never going to have much of an impact in such an ambitiously short period of time.
The government’s only hope lies in a sudden upturn in the global economy. Unfortunately, the EU sovereign debt crisis is still in full swing and the US is currently teetering on the edge of a “fiscal cliff.” Even China is experiencing slackening growth figures. Taiwan relies on overseas trade, but the global markets are not in the best of health, so the government has nowhere left to turn.
Faced with the “Fury” (火大) protests organized by the Democratic Progressive Party, Ma should come clean and apologize to the public for his failures, instead of trying to evade the issue by saying that the government is trying its best. A prompt reshuffle of his Cabinet, to see if another set of heads can come up with better ideas, could be the only thing that stops him from being engulfed by the public’s fury.