Mon, Jul 24, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Ma's trips raise questions about what he's promoting

DIPLOMATIC VENTURES Even KMT members who have traveled with Taipei's mayor are not comfortable with his combining party with municipal business

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

Since taking over the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairmanship last August, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been criticized for neglecting his municipal responsibilities in favor of party affairs.

Concern over his dual capacities rose again following Ma's trip to Japan earlier this month. Some Taipei city councilors -- including KMT members -- criticized Ma for taking advantage of municipal resources to promote the KMT's policies in Japan.

The four-day trip was arranged by the Taipei City Government to enhance city-to-city exchanges. However, Ma was accompanied by KMT legislators and party spokeswoman Cheng Li-wen (鄭麗文), in addition to city government staff members and five city councilors.

"It was supposed to be a trip to observe municipal developments in Japan, but that was not the case," said New Party Taipei City Councilor Lee Chin-yuan (李慶元), who was one of those making the trip.

Calling the trip a "mixture of city government and KMT affairs," Lee said that city councilors and officials had been unable to participate in most of the events that had been arranged by the KMT for the first two days of the visit.

Another participant in the Japan trip, KMT City Councilor Chen Yung-te (陳永德), was also disappointed with the arrangements and criticized the city government for "covering up for the KMT."

CITY'S DEFENSE

Responding to the criticism from the councilors, Taipei Information Department Director Lo Chih-cheng (羅智成) said the Japan trip had included several municipal events, such as Ma's meetings with Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara and Yokohama Mayor Hiroshi Nakada.

"Mayor Ma took time out of his municipal schedule to meet with Japan's top officials. That is not taking advantage of the municipal schedule to handle KMT affairs," Lo said.

Ma also met with members of Japan's Diet to talk about the KMT's cross-strait policies, and allegedly met or talked with Foreign Minister Taro Aso, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe and former chief Cabinet secretary Yasuo Fukuda.

KMT PAID

The city government said Ma's travel expenses and those of the KMT members who traveled with him were covered by the KMT, rather than the city.

Taipei City Councilor Lee Wen-ying (李文英) of the Democratic Progressive Party, however, denounced Ma for using the city's budget and resources to make frequent overseas trips to boost his credentials for the 2008 presidential election.

"Ma Ying-jeou's frequent trips to foreign countries are actually a `god-making' move to attract support from overseas Chinese communities," she said.

But one trip participant, KMT City Councilor Chen Yu-mei (陳玉梅), defended the mayor's trips abroad.

"Mayor Ma took the opportunity to promote Taipei's developments, such as our wireless infrastructure and MRT construction, but the media reported little of such things," she said.

According to the Taipei City Government Secretariat, the total cost of the mayor's overseas trips made to enhance city-to-city exchanges or to attract foreign businesses to the city in the past six months was more than NT$500 million (US$15.3 million).

Ma visited five cities in Europe for 13 days in February, followed by a 10-day trip to the US in March and a six-day visit to Singapore and Australia in May.

While all of the trips were arranged by the city government as "city diplomacy" efforts, KMT members went along on the trips and joined Ma in meetings with key politicians to promote KMT's cross-strait policies.

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