The administration of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) promoted more even allocation of resources, starting with the relocation of central government agencies south. Chen heralded the Council of Agriculture’s Fisheries Agency as the advance guard in this initiative.
When President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office, this policy was thrown into reverse and the agency began working on its return to Taipei, a process due to be completed by the end of this month.
The government should clarify what is happening here, and not allow these agencies to become political soccer balls. We do not want to see the agency shuttling back and forth every time there is a transfer of power. Not only is this a waste of resources, it is harmful to the long-term development of the nation’s fishing industry.
There were initial reservations about the agency’s relocation, but with the support of some senior fisheries officials, and in response to demands from fishermen in the south, the Chen administration pushed through proposals to complete the move, to best address the needs of the industry.
To allay the concerns of Fisheries Agency personnel, and in the absence of specific legal provisions, the government used its second reserve fund to subsidize reallocated members of staff to the tune of an extra NT$20,000 a month, over three years. The project was costly, in terms of both funds and human resources.
However, with the transition of political power back to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), the Fisheries Agency was brought back north, quietly. Things were once more thrown into disarray, follow-up measures dried up and senior staff began to spend much more time in Taipei than in the southern agency headquarters, all of which led to concerns about the quality and efficiency of the service being provided.
Gone were the advantages of relocating the agency to the south, and now that the agency officials have all been reinstated in Taipei, much time and money has been wasted, not to mention damage caused to the agency’s relationship with fishermen.
This behavior shows once again how the government prioritizes the north. The government must account for its reasons for bringing the Fisheries Agency back to Taipei after it had already been relocated south, if only to rebuke accusations that the turnaround was because of bad blood between Ma and Chen.
The relocation should never have been seen as a one-off case — it should have been part of a wider policy of locating central government agency administration offices around the country. It should have been subject to a comprehensive evaluation, taking into account expert advice, and perhaps then it would not have been reduced to the political soccer ball it has become.
Actually, most fishermen do not really care where the Fisheries Agency carries out its administrative work: They are more bothered about what is being done about steadily rising business costs; about a lack of fresh blood coming through; about decreasing fishery resources along Taiwan’s coastal areas; about depleting stocks of bluefin tuna, mullet, and cuttlefish; about shrinking international fishing quotas; and about fewer fishery subsidies being made available.
There seems to be a disjuncture between the deliberations of the government and officials, on the one hand, and what the fishermen want, on the other, in terms of actual measures the government could introduce that would help the fishermen get through their travails and to help them out of the rather intimidating circumstances they find their industry in.
After all, the point of the Fisheries Agency’s existence lies in its efficacy and not in where it is located.
Du Yu is chief executive officer of the Chen-Li Task Force for Agricultural Reform.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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