Despite the economic recovery, Ma said there was considerable room for improvement in the social sphere, as well as on the environment, education and the judicial system.
On judicial reform, Ma said the Presidential Office would “immediately” establish a human rights consultative committee chaired by Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長).
The committee would be composed of public officials and private citizens who would discuss and develop human rights policies and issue regular human rights reports, he said.
The judiciary must be independent, Ma said, but it must not be detached from the outside world or act against reasonable public expectations.
His administration is committed to eradicating graft and would not compromise with the forces of corruption, he said. On the environment, Ma said equal importance should be placed on environmental protection and economic growth.
“However, in the event that economic development will have a severe impact on or damage the environment, environmental protection should take priority,” he said. “We must improve the industrial structure as well as the current environmental impact assessment system, incorporating them as essential aspects of national land planning.”
On educational reform, Ma pledged to step up efforts to institute 12-year compulsory education and expand the tuition-free program for kindergarten children from offshore islands to Taiwan proper starting next year.
After the speech, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators lauded Ma’s announcement of a human rights commission, saying it showed the Presidential Office was determined to take action to safeguard freedom and human rights.
However, Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) called Ma’s human rights commission a “hasty improvisation” that was long overdue.
The commission was announced, she said, to balance some of the criticism levied at the president following his delay condemning China over its imprisonment of Nobel Peace Prize winner and political dissident Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波).
“Fundamental human rights are the most important element of any country,” Tsai said. “The president shouldn’t have waited almost three years after his inauguration to think of this issue. It’s something that he should have focused on since day one.”
Tsai’s did not attend the Double Ten National Day celebrations, nor did senior party officials. Instead, she stuck to her regular campaigning schedule.
What matters is not the ceremony, but whether Taiwanese are “truly” happy, she said.
“The national day festivities are a necessary ceremony, but underneath all this, what matters is … where the public’s true happiness lies. The main point is to have better policies to give the people greater happiness,” she said.
Tsai said Ma’s address was “disappointing” and the latest example of Ma governing the country through election slogans. What is lacking is actual policies that can be carried out, she said.
Additional reporting by Vincent Y. Chao and Flora Wang