Government must show it cares

By Wang Jiann-chyuan 王健全  / 

Thu, Oct 17, 2013 - Page 8

The fight between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) continues, while Ma’s approval rating sinks to a new low. Whether Ma’s intentions were right and proper, he has lost his legitimacy through loss of public support.

This means that the majority of Taiwanese are opposed to the policies implemented by and the issues preoccupying the government.

People have been taking to the streets for a whole range of reasons, such as the construction and operation of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Gongliao District, the demolition of houses in Dapu Borough (大埔), Miaoli County, fuel and electricity price hikes, and the signing of the cross-strait service trade agreement, venting their anger and protesting against the government’s failings.

A string of civil movements have paralysed the government, so that policies are not getting pushed through.

The government has to rethink how it promotes policies moving forward. However, it has to ensure that these policies are fully supported by making sure that adequate measures and resources are in place.

It is also crucial that it gains support for these policies, and that it does so quickly.

With public opinion on its side, the government will find it much easier to implement its policies.

How can it attract greater public support? For a short-term solution, it should concentrate its resources on certain groups that are struggling with a stagnant economy to win their hearts and minds.

There are three target groups: small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), low and middle-income households and young people. The government does have some measures aimed at helping these groups, but its resources are scattered because the measures are proposed by different government agencies and departments.

The government should work harder to integrate the resources of these agencies and attract investment from the private sector. By actively helping these groups, which are finding it difficult to make ends meet under current economic conditions, the government will be able to lift its approval rating.

First, to help SMEs, it should protect downstream companies in certain profitable, core manufacturing sectors — machine tools, bicycles, precision machinery and optical instruments — to keep the whole supply chain intact.

This will enable downstream SMEs to thrive and enable these sectors as a whole to create more job opportunities.

At the same time, the government should encourage Taiwanese businesspeople in China to return to engage in manufacturing, processing, designing, branding, marketing and other value-added services to create business opportunities in Taiwan.

In addition, in line with the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement between Taiwan and China, the government should attract more Chinese tourists.

By further opening itself to independent travelers from China, the government will be creating business int the retail, restaurants, logistics, transportation and tourism sectors.

While it seeks to draw investment from leading Chinese sectors through the cross-strait service trade pact, it should provide initial subsidies and assistance to any of the local SMEs that may be affected.

Next, in terms of assistance for low and middle-income households, the government should continue its social relief and short-term employment programs.

It also recently decided to raise the poverty line so that more households would qualify for assistance starting next year. This is commendable.

As for other temporary measures, it could consider helping the disadvantaged by issuing shopping or food vouchers.

It can even section off several streets where free meals can be provided to the poor and needy on certain dates, such as the Moon Festival, the New Year or the Lunar New Year. All these measures are worth trying.

Lastly, to address the concerns of many young people worried about finding a job when they leave school or university, the government should establish a “college withdrawal mechanism” to deal with the excessive number of universities and colleges in the country.

It should also expand technical and vocational education and skills training programs, so as to resolve the imbalance between supply and demand for junior college graduates.

In addition, it can raise private sector investment and direct it to consultants and guidance groups to help young people start their own business.

Once these are up and running, the government could promote them on TV, as is done in Japan. These consultants can also offer careers guidance to help graduates find jobs.

If the government can show that it cares, its approval rating will go up, and it will be much easier for it to broach more controversial policies and sensitive issues without risking so many public protests.

Wang Jiann-chyuan is vice president of the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research.

Translated by Eddy Chang