Wed, Mar 06, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Opposition attacks `intern' economics minister

INCOMPETENCE?Opposition lawmakers say that Christine Tsung, the minister of Economic Affairs and a good friend of the president, is not qualified for her position

By Crystal Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER


Opposition lawmakers yesterday continued to berate Minister of Economic Affairs Christine Tsung (宗才怡), saying she wasn't qualified for her job and should step down.

But Premier Yu Shyi-kun said it was premature to judge a Cabinet official who has been in office for just one month.

Tsung -- though taken aback by the legislature's feisty interpellation style -- said yesterday she would hang on to her post.

Tsung is an old friend of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) -- she raised funds for him in the US -- and critics say her close ties to Chen are the reason she was appointed to the position.

"You don't have to eat the whole apple to tell it is rotten," KMT lawmaker Liao Fung-te (廖風德) said yesterday. "The DPP has found an intern to steer the economics ministry. Tsung is obviously inept, judging from her performance at the Economics Committee yesterday."

On Monday, nearly 60 lawmakers from across the spectrum lined up to question Tsung, who vowed upon her appointment to turn the economy around and bring the unemployment rate below 3.8 percent within two years.

Tall, sophisticated and attractive -- Fortune once put Tsung on its "people to watch" list -- the former head of China Airlines spoke with increasing unease later in the day after giving a series of wrong answers to questions.

She mistakenly said the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant would be completed in 2011. The official estimate is 2006. She also floundered in defining economic terms raised by lawmakers.

Having lived in the US for decades before her return in 1999, Tsung couldn't help but intersperse her speeches with English. This drew protest from legislators who insisted they had problems comprehending her.

"I don't see how the minister can help the economy take off when she -- with tears in her eyes? -- looked crestfallen during the interpellation [on Monday]," KMT legislator Yang Chung-ying (楊瓊櫻) said yesterday.

PFP lawmaker Chou Hsi-wei (周錫瑋) said it was Tsung who needed a boost. "Let's all lend Tsung a helping hand, for she is in charge of such an important ministry," Chou said. "But if it's better to replace her, the government had better take the action without delay."

Defending his Cabinet, the premier urged the legislature to give Tsung more time to learn the ropes.

"Having taken office for just one month, Tsung is still in the process of adjusting," Yu said. "Given more time, she will prove a competent minister."

The premier said the adjustment usually would take six months but Tsung, given her intelligence, could master her job in three months.

For her part, Tsung greeted the volley of criticism with her hallmark smile. She pshawed charges of ineptitude, saying a good minister did not have to be omniscient.

"It's unrealistic to expect a minister to know everything," Tsung told reporters.

"Rather, I will act as a strategic leader, overseeing and coordinating a staff of 70,000."

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