Although Taiwan has had five presidential elections, for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), the Republic of China (ROC) is still the KMT’s China, not a country belonging to its citizens. This nation is not like a real country. Leaving aside the five branches of government in the bizarre Constitution that includes the two strange beasts called the Examination Yuan and the Control Yuan, civil servants and political appointees serve as government officials, which causes all sorts of absurd things to happen. There are a lot of cities directly administered by the Cabinet in which titles and territories are granted to favored elites without any thought of regional improvement, making it clear that the system is all about rewarding the powerful.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) wields power, but does not take responsibility. During the student-led Sunflower movement in March, he sent Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), an unelected appointee, to meet elected legislators. Jiang acted as if he was a legislative official and trotted about as if he owned the place. If it had not been for the Sunflower movement, the cross-strait service trade agreement would already have been signed.
None of the political appointees in the Cabinet have been voted for and they follow Ma’s wishes, tow the party line and act in an erratic manner. They have no idea about real politics, but many are still handpicked and promoted from the ranks of civil servants. It would be interesting to know what the nation’s academics studying political science and public administration think about this system.
Our well-protected civil servants are employed via examinations and the reason they are so protected is that they are supposed to maintain administrative neutrality and stand above factional party politics. However, how many senior civil servants are not members of the KMT? By sticking to the party line, they can climb the ladder and this is precisely how they become politically appointed officials.
Under such circumstances, political appointees have the power and pay that goes along with that position, but are unwilling to give up the guarantees enjoyed by civil servants.
Seeing that he would not be re-elected, Greater Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) allowed five department heads to switch back and forth between being political officials and civil servants to help ensure they were entitled to maximum retirement benefits. This is a prime example of the government trying to squeeze every last penny out of everything. Political appointees with links to the KMT who step down go through a revolving door and are placed in positions of power in government-funded foundations. Ma’s administration is clearly only concerned about looking after itself and does not care about its image or reputation.
In other countries, politicians are politicians and do not become civil servants. However, in the Chinese tradition, civil servants and political officials both act as officials and in the same tradition, “good” officials always look after their own interests and do not care if they are criticized. If we look at our so-called Cabinet, we see that Cabinet members are often spineless to their superiors, order those below them around and treat the public perfunctorily. The structures set up by the KMT during its long rule have created a system for dividing the spoils, in which everyone is participating, that has the power to control the state. This is something that it is very hard to rid ourselves of.
What sort of a country is this? What sort of a government is this? Also, just what sort of officials are they, walking around with the Four Books and Five Classics in their hands and talking all day long about justice and virtue? Which culture did this evil legacy come from? This is something that needs to change.
Lee Min-yung is a poet.
Translated by Drew Cameron