Just 58 days after starting his job, 35-year-old Taipei City Government spokesman Lo Wang-zhe (羅旺哲) on Monday last week offered his resignation to Taipei Mayor Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安) because of “health issues.”
Lo is the first member of Chiang’s administration to jump ship, and the main reason why he did so is that certain senior officials in the city government want to control its public relations.
On Jan. 16, Chiang inspected the Taipei Dome, which is nearing completion. After that, although Lo still held the title of spokesman, his official powers were in the hands of a “policymaking clique” made up of a handful of municipal policy advisers, and Lo found himself sidelined.
Meanwhile, infighting has been brewing within the city government, even if it seems like a storm in a teacup.
A certain coterie sees Lo as an outsider because he is not closely connected to Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫).
Not belonging to the same faction made it difficult for Lo to deal internally with the city government and externally with the media.
Meanwhile, Chiang has downplayed the issue of Lo offering his resignation after being sidelined.
However, Chiang’s spokesperson jumping ship casts doubt on the mayor’s leadership ability and weakens his administration’s momentum. Chiang needs to figure out why there is infighting in his team and intervene with no delay, because allowing such infighting to continue would prove that he is not competent to serve as mayor.
There are several reasons for saying so.
First, downplaying Lo’s resignation does not solve the problem.
A delegation from the Shanghai City Government visited Taipei from Feb. 18 to Monday last week, but its itinerary was not made public and was even suddenly altered on the first day, leaving reporters out in the cold and drawing heavy criticism from Taipei city councilors.
Lo and his close colleagues were not told about the new schedule, but Chiang’s administration still saddled him with the task of explaining the change to the media.
This caused Lo to feel under a lot of pressure. After that, Lo found himself sidelined. He did complain to Chiang about it, but the mayor downplayed the issue.
In effect, Chiang turned a blind eye to the infighting, whereas a good political leader should be able to create a secure working environment while communicating and resolving conflicts.
Second, the tiny size of Chiang’s decisionmaking circle and the cliquishness of the city government’s faction are not good for municipal governance.
When Lo resigned, he hinted at his true reason for leaving by saying that he hopes that his “resignation can allow the city government team to operate better.”
Evidently he had been restricted by some senior city government officials who are close to the KMT chairman.
Lo had his hands tied at every turn, from the content of his news statements to his replies to reporters’ questions, so finally all he could do was bid farewell to Chiang’s little group of decisionmakers.
Taipei residents, including those who voted for Chiang, might ask why all the power to decide policies in the city is in the hands of people connected to Chu. What does that say about Chiang’s ability to govern?
Third, if Chiang wants to put his team in order, the first thing he needs to do is to break down factional divides.
This is Chiang’s first go at being the head of a local government. So far, his way of dealing with conflicts is to downplay them. On the surface, this looks like the decent thing to do, but it is his way of putting things off. It does not really solve problems or fix the real issues that beset his team.
As a result, his team is not governing the city well. With the Taipei City Council starting its new session next month, councilors of all parties are busy sharpening their knives.
Chiang must learn from this bitter experience. He needs to reorganize his team, break down factional divides, intervene directly and communicate where necessary to challenge the culture of sidelining and infighting.
If he goes on downplaying these issues, it would only prove that he is unfit to serve as mayor.
Knight Chang is a political worker and doctor of education.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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