Wed, Aug 19, 2009 - Page 1 News List

MORAKOT: THE AFTERMATH : President will not quit over storm

TIME OF MOURNING Ma Ying-jeou announced that in the wake of the disaster, Double Ten National Day celebrations and a trip to allies would be canceled

By Ko Shu-ling and Meggie Lu  /  STAFF REPORTERS

People attempt to push a truck up a steep, boulder-strewn road in Chiayi County yesterday in the wake of Typhoon Morakot.

PHOTO: TSAI TSUNG-HSUN, TAIPEI TIMES

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said yesterday he would not resign over his government’s response to Typhoon Morakot, but apologized for any shortcomings.

“I will not run from my responsibilities,” Ma said.

“I know there are areas to improve and as president, I have to shoulder the responsibility for [victims’] relocation and resettlement in the future,” he said. “I cannot escape my duties.”

Leading Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), Minister of National Defense Chen Chao-ming (陳肇敏), Vice Premier Paul Chiu (邱正雄) and Central Emergency Operations Center Commander Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) in a deep bow — a symbolic apology — Ma said that as the leader of the country he would take full responsibility for all the mistakes made during the disaster and that he wanted to offer his most sincere apology to the public, especially those who lost loved ones.

Ma had apologized on Saturday for the pace of rescue efforts, but blamed the weather and road conditions. Ma said yesterday that had it not been for bad weather, the rescue efforts would have been better and started earlier. He promised to review the rescue system, correct problems in the system and punish those officials responsible, hoping to finalize the penalties by early next month.

Ma also apologized for “improper” remarks he made during inspection trips to disaster areas, saying the way he expressed himself had mistakenly caused people to think he was arrogant and aloof.

He blamed the public impression of the “slow” and “disorderly” relief efforts on “poor communication.”

As Chen dismissed criticism that the military reacted too slowly, Ma said he thought he demonstrated “strong leadership” amid the crisis by ordering the military to increase their participation in the rescue operation.

Asked whether he thought the manner in which he handled the aftermath of Morakot was comparable to the US government’s much criticized handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Ma didn’t answer the question, instead insisting that he had exercised “strong leadership, but not necessarily in the face of the media.”

“We are working actually by the system instead of by the individual,” he said.

While some have accused Ma of forgetting his role as commander-in-chief, Ma said he did not necessarily have to take charge when disaster struck because his job was to “mobilize people and resources” so they could be allocated more effectively.

Ma proposed replacing the National Fire Administration with a disaster prevention and rescue agency under the Ministry of the Interior. Local governments should also establish disaster prevention bureaus, he said. He promised to equip them with sufficient manpower and budget for more effective operations.

The military should include disaster prevention to its mission, he said. To better equip search and rescue teams, Ma said his administration would buy 45 Black Hawk helicopters, 15 fewer than the original plan. The NT$10 billion (US$300 million) saved would be spent on improving the equipment of the National Airborne Services Corps.

The government will map out a standard operation procedure for compulsory evacuation programs and educate the public on the matter. Emphasizing the importance of relocating mudslide-prone hillside villages, Ma said the Executive Yuan was reviewing the National Land Development Plan (國土計畫法).

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