President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) likes to say that his ears are attuned to the public’s voice, but his actions often belie this claim.
If he is listening, it will be hard to miss the ever-growing list of concerns bellowed by representatives across several business sectors about the cross-strait service trade pact that was signed in June. It would also be difficult for him to ignore the vigorous protests that have been staged in front of the Legislative Yuan in recent days and a statement issued on Tuesday by many artists, academics and representatives from the publishing and media sectors calling for the agreement to be renegotiated.
If Ma is serious about wanting to hear what the public has to say, students would not be barred from attending public hearings on the service trade pact — an action that led to clashes with police yesterday.
However, it appears that Ma has become increasingly deaf to the cries of the public. Instead of being attuned to the public’s anxieties, he claims criticism of the agreement is just a figment of rumormongers’ imaginations.
The basic responsibility of a government is to look after its citizens’ well-being and be responsive to their concerns, and Ma, as head of state, should be heeding the apprehension caused by his administration’s ill-conceived rush to ink the service trade pact.
It is downright shameful to listen to him try to demonize opponents of the agreement as rumormongers when all they are trying to do is voice the public’s uneasiness over the opacity of the pact. Given that the critics include university professors, industry experts, service operators and national policy advisor Rex How (郝明義), who resigned yesterday to protest against the government’s actions, Ma’s disinclination to engage with them or address their concerns comes off as arrogant.
Opponents have voiced valid concerns over the potential adverse impact of the agreement. As How clearly put it, cross-strait policy has direct consequences for all Taiwanese and the government should not be prioritizing economic welfare at the expense of national security, nor should it be seeking to shroud the negotiations.
An opinion poll released by Taiwan Indicators Survey Research on Tuesday showed that 62.3 percent of respondents said they do not believe the Ma administration would be able to reduce the adverse impact of opening the Taiwanese service industry to China or safeguard the interest of Taiwanese businesses. The survey also found the number of people who were doubtful about the government’s ability to deal with the issue increased by 13.1 percentage points since a similar poll conducted in 2009 when the government was negotiating the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China.
Although Ma may say that survey results should be taken just as references, the numbers suggest there is a vast concern among the public about both the president and his government’s capability and credibility.
“We will attach great importance to how the government’s policies are received by the public. We will review, improve and — if necessary — stop, if particular policies receive a lot of criticism from the people… I will listen attentively to everyone’s opinion and humbly proceed with needed reforms,” Ma said in his victory speech after winning re-election on Jan. 14 last year.
Ma should remember that promise, and seek to live up to the government’s responsibility to its people before he digs Taiwan’s grave with his administration’s arbitrary and capricious policymaking.