Sat, Mar 23, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Rift threatens downsizing plans

By Lin Chieh-yu  /  STAFF REPORTER

A rift among Government Reform Committee members has raised doubts about whether President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) can meet an end-of-March deadline for submitting a proposal detailing the planned downsizing of the government.

The 25-member committee, comprising of people from academic and business circles and the Cabinet, is a temporary body established by the president.

It will try to develop a final proposal in meetings to be held today and tomorrow in Taipei. Their proposal will then be discussed at a final committee conference chaired by Chen on March 30.

"Many divergent opinions still exist between Cabinet members and scholars," Michael Hsiao (蕭新煌), a committee member and presidential policy adviser, told the Taipei Times. "The Cabinet's draft proposal is obviously being suppressed, while scholars' opinions are receiving more attention.

"There has not been a solid and clear consensus among committee members and we need more time to deliberate on the final proposal. It's inappropriate to come up with a false consensus just to meet the president's deadline," Hsiao said.

He stressed that the Cabinet's draft proposal was developed after more than two years of research and takes into account the political reality and the historic evolution of the Executive Yuan's departments.

"None of those departments is willing to be merged or dismissed," Hsiao said. "Any downsizing or adjustment of the government should consider the political struggle that may ensue.

"Some suggestions from the participating scholars are not pragmatic," Hsiao added.

The reform committee has been divided into five groups, each with five to six members, to discuss different topics and seek consensus.

But Hsiao warned that the five groups don't have enough time to hold a full debate.

After the last committee meeting on March 16, KMT lawmaker Huang Te-fu (黃德福) said in the Legislative Yuan that the committee chairman -- Chen Shih-meng (陳師孟), who is also the secretary-general to the president -- showed undue preference for some scholars' suggestions and purposely suppressed Cabinet representatives.

"Those scholars are members of the Taiwan ThinkTank, which is the academic institute with the closest ties to President Chen," Huang said. "Michael Hsiao then argued with Chen Shih-meng during the meeting."

Hsiao denied that there was any conflict during the meeting, but said that Chen Shih-meng did restrict Lin Chia-cheng (林嘉誠), the chairman of the Cabinet's Research, Development and Evaluation Commission, from speaking.

"I think that Chen Shih-meng was angry because the Cabinet gave its draft proposal to the media before the meeting reached a consensus," Hsiao told the Taipei Times.

An aide at Chen Shih-meng's office also said that Chen simply hoped that all members could express their opinions without having to follow the Cabinet's proposal.

"The secretary-general had even rejected some suggestions from the scholars but adopted the Cabinet's ideas during the meeting," the aide said.

Some opposition politicians said there appears to be a struggle between Premier Yu Shyi-kun, formerly secretary-general to the president, and Chen Shih-meng.

"As much as their ways of hosting the meetings are different, I don't think there is any political wrangling between them," Hsiao said.

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