President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) posted a message on his Facebook page several days ago, discussing Taiwan’s competitiveness and posing three questions, which the media have taken to calling “Ma’s three conundrums.” He asked why Taiwan trails other countries in the speed of completion of public construction projects, questioned the nation’s English language abilities and promoted trade liberalization, saying these issues were holding Taiwan back. Well, Taiwanese would also like to know the answers to these conundrums.
It has been several days since Ma posted his queries, but we have seen no sign of a response from the government. It is OK, Ma, we understand: the answer is blowing in the wind.
The president correctly identified the problems, but he seems to be confused about who should be asking the questions and who should be finding the answers. If Ma were a football coach, and government officials the players, it would be like his team losing a stretch of games and, rather than looking for the root of the problem or discussing new tactics with his team, and Ma turning to the crowd and saying: “What’s going on?”
Ma has been in power for five years. If public construction projects are completed slower than in other countries, he should be asking the premier to sit down with departments heads, such as officials from the Public Construction Commission, and getting them to hammer out a solution.
Figuring out how to reduce red tape and corruption would be good places to start. The key to improving efficiency in this sector lies in the hands of Ma and his premier: If they screw up, who else is there to blame?
On trade liberalization, Ma lamented that over the past decade South Korea has signed more free-trade agreements (FTAs) than Taiwan has. Three years ago, when he signed the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China, Ma waxed lyrical about how the pact would make it easier for Taiwan to sign FTAs. Three years on, the public would like to ask Ma what else he has accomplished.
Is it that he was taken for a ride and China has no intention of allowing Taiwan to sign FTAs? Or has he been dragging his feet and not trying to get other countries to sign agreements with Taiwan?
Ma’s administration has been overly pro-China, ignoring the rest of the world. Taiwanese have been swarming to China, with fewer people going to the West to study or to do business. Students and working people alike have less of a sense of the importance, or desirability, of an international outlook. Taiwan lacks English-speaking environments and there is often little need for English in schools, homes or workplaces.
With a lack of pressure to learn to speak English in the education system, it is not surprising that the overall standard of the nation’s English lags behind other countries.
Ma’s “three conundrums” are much like Premier Jiang Yi-huah’s (江宜樺) comments about the moribund economy. The government is both the problem and the solution. Broken campaign promises are either blamed on the previous government or on the difficult global situation, otherwise they are just forgotten.
All talk and no action, government officials appear oblivious to the fact that they are responsible for governing the country. When the initial clamor dies down, the media will move on to the next hot issue and the problems are temporarily forgotten.
Ma controls the state and Taiwan’s competitiveness is in the government’s hands. If a nation is not competitive, the fault lies not with the population, but with the government’s inability to do its job properly.
If this point is lost on Ma, then he well deserves The Economist’s label of “ineffectual bumbler.”