EDITORIAL: Ma’s empty economic refrain

Fri, Feb 07, 2014 - Page 8

At a gathering of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) officials on Wednesday, the first day of work after the Lunar New Year holiday, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who doubles as party chairman, called on Taiwanese to work together to revive the country’s economy as he reiterated his pledge to boost the nation’s economic environment and outlook.

However, it is difficult to be optimistic about the president’s talk about improving the economy and people’s livelihoods when he did not even bother to usher in the Year of the Horse with a new Cabinet lineup to offer the public a new vision, let alone present any concrete financial and economic plans and policies.

Prior to the beginning of the Lunar New Year holiday last week, a rumor predicted a Cabinet reorganization in the Ma administration after the break.

It turns out, to the disappointment of many, that all of the Cabinet members in charge of financial and economic affairs are to stay put, in light of what Ma’s administration calls “placing stabilization and economic development at the top of its priorities.”

The truth is, if Ma is at all serious about boosting the nation’s economy, the Cabinet led by Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) would have to undergo at least a minor reshuffling of the members in charge of financial and economic affairs to demonstrate the president’s determination to reinvigorate the economy. The lack of personnel changes on the finance and economics fronts only reinforces the widespread impression of the president as one who is all talk and no action.

The nation faces economic challenges ranging from a quickly deteriorating labor market and weakening household income to the growing gap between rich and poor, overdependence on China and record-high public debt.

In case the president needs a reminder, two of the five worst annual GDP performances between 1951 and last year — 0.73 percent in 2008 and minus-1.81 percent in 2009 — came under his administration. The 2.97 percent average GDP growth during Ma’s five years in office also pales in comparison with the former Democratic Progressive Party administration’s average of 4.42 percent growth between 2000 and 2008.

The unemployment rate of 4.24 percent remains high, workers’ salaries are back to where they were 16 years ago and the list of other depressing numbers, such as the increase in low-income households, goes on.

A survey conducted by Taiwan Indicator Survey Research late last month suggested that as many as 84.8 percent of respondents are dissatisfied with the current state of the economy and just 6.8 percent gave it a positive nod — a striking difference from Ma’s talk on Wednesday with claims that the nation’s commodity prices are dropping and that the economy is making a slow recovery.

Ma’s failure to deliver on his 2008 “6-3-3” campaign pledge — 6 percent economic growth, per capita income of US$30,000 and an unemployment rate below 3 percent — has become a bad joke. Hopefully the president’s latest pledges on reviving the nation’s economy will not fizzle out to be yet another laughingstock.