Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrew Hsia (夏立言) tendered his resignation yesterday, making him the first official casualty of the government’s highly criticized response in the aftermath of Typhoon Morakot. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said Hsia’s letter of resignation had reached Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄).
“I believe he will approve it,” Ma said at a press conference with foreign press yesterday.
Ma, however, did not hear the question right, as the reporter asked him whether he approved of Hsia’s resignation.
Separately, Liu’s office yesterday said the resignation had not been approved by the premier.
Liu had talked with Minister of Foreign Affairs Francisco Ou (歐鴻鍊) on the matter and would make up his mind later, Liu’s office said.
The ministry was put on the defensive last week when a cable instructing foreign missions to decline all forms of foreign aid except for cash was leaked to a local newspaper. The cable was sent out three days after the typhoon battered five southern counties.
The leak ignited public fury and criticism of the ministry.
At a press conference on Friday, Hsia said the cable should have included the phrase “temporarily decline,” and blamed the media for twisting the meaning of the document, which was meant to thank the international community for their offers and to instruct representative offices to encourage foreign governments to donate money instead.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and staffers inside the ministry said Hsia was a scapegoat for the government.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a ranking foreign ministry official said Hsia had to take the fall because he was the deputy minister, but that Hsia was not directly linked to the cable.
Hsia, however, has repeatedly told reporters that the question of who approved the cable was a moot point because any errors committed automatically fell on his shoulders while Ou was away.
The ministry also argued its sole role in the relief effort was to coordinate with other governments on aid and that it had no authority to ask for assistance because such decisions were under the National Fire Administration’s (NFA) jurisdiction.
The NFA, however, said it was never consulted by the ministry prior to the release of the cable.
The official said the ministry had kept records of communications with the NFA and was fully prepared for a face-off if it came to that.
DPP Spokesperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said yesterday that according to government protocol, any such instructions must pass the desks of the premier and the president and therefore, those two should take the blame, not Hsia.
Hsia has denied Ma and Liu ever saw the document.
“Whether or not Ma knew about the cable, it was a huge mistake,” Tsai said.
Former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) said Hsia should not be held solely responsible.
“He does not have the power nor the guts to make such an important decision,” she said.
Lu urged the government to refrain from letting Hsia become a second Yu Wen (余文), a secretary to Ma during his stint as Taipei mayor.
Yu was found guilty of graft in August 2007 and sentenced to 14 months in jail for using fraudulent receipts to claim reimbursements from Ma’s special allowance fund. He was released on parole in April.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHIH HSIU-CHUAN