20131124 The Liberty Times Editorial: Ma’s clones hold up democracy
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The Liberty Times Editorial: Ma’s clones hold up democracy

The “autumn” in the proverb “an eventful autumn” really means “period,” so why is the word autumn used rather than spring or summer? This has to do with the fact that Chinese emperors chose to gather their armies and go to war in the autumn, after the harvest was over, and that is why autumn came to signify a time of political upheaval. For this year, autumn has passed and winter is upon us. Many things remain unresolved, and an eventful winter lies ahead.

Why is the national government so unstable? The main reason is personnel related. One good example of this is Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai’s (龍應台) statement that “ministry after ministry is going up in flames.”

With past governments, regardless of achievements or evaluations, each ministry, and in particular the routine operations of the civil service, were stable. For a long time, there have been few changes to the government system, so why is there such chaos now? The main variable is clearly personnel related.

Take the Gambia’s severing of diplomatic ties as an example. When President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who is in charge of foreign policy, called a national security meeting on Nov. 17, it was attended by Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), National Security Council Secretary-General Jason Yuan (袁健生), Presidential Office Secretary-General Timothy Yang (楊進添) and Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lin (林永樂). What impression does this group of people leave?

Add to the list Lung, Minister Without Portfolio Tsai Yu-ling (蔡玉玲), Minister of Justice Lo Ying-shay (羅瑩雪), and Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘), the prosecutor-general who stands accused of leaking information, Council for Economic Planning and Development Minister Kuan Chung-ming (管中閔), who came up with the expression “golden cross” to describe the point at which GDP growth rises over 4 percent and the jobless rate drops below 4 percent, and Minister of Environmental Protection Stephen Shen (沈世宏), who recently criticized environmental organizations. They all come from the same mold: They are all little Ma Ying-jeous.

Ma likes to quote the Chinese classics, which makes one wonder if he has read his father’s stories about Qing generals Zeng Guofan (曾國藩) and Zuo Zongtang (左宗棠). Zuo was an important general in the Hunan army in the 19th century. He sent a memorial to the Tongzhi (同治) Emperor in which he suggested that the emperor order all officials with the power to appoint staff to learn from Zeng.

Zuo’s view has frequently been praised by later generations. Mao Zedong (毛澤東) said that “among recent people, I only admire Zeng Guofan,” and Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) said that “every politician should read his [Zeng’s] writings.”

How did Zeng choose people for appointments? He said there were four ways of doing so: Choose from a wide and diverse range of people to be able to enrich policy, and avoid arbitrariness and dead angles in decision making; be cautious and think three times before you appoint someone. In one of his works, he said that people should “be able to see through a person before appointing them,” train them constantly, and let them grow so they can meet the needs of the organization and maintain discipline regardless of closeness of relationship, and be fair when issuing rewards and punishments. This is clearly the kind of fairness and justice required to build loyalty.

Technology keeps developing, but the human character does not change much. The views of 160 years ago do not differ much from modern management principles. Looking at how political appointees are selected in the current government, it is easy to see why ministry after ministry is going up in flames.

First, Ma is taking a very narrow approach to appointing people, and even people within the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) say that they all resemble him. Since he appoints people from a small group who are like himself, there is no need to even consider the remaining three steps of Zeng’s recommendations. The logic is that with a close relationship with the president, anything goes.

Aides who have had to step down are presented with the Order of the Brilliant Star medal, and one who has been accused of wiretapping and leaking information did not have to answer questions in the legislature and remained in charge of all the nation’s prosecutors.

However, without a close relationship with Ma, people can be forced out, even if charges of improper lobbying have not been proven. Ministers will of course have to step down.

Many people say that the problems with the Ma administration should be blamed on the democratic system, but this is not necessarily true. A president that everyone likes, but who does not meet even the most basic requirements can be elected. However, any sound society will have the required checks and balances to force a popularly elected leader to appoint officials based on expertise.

One example is the hearing system in the US Congress. The problem is not democracy. The problem is that Taiwan is still a fledgling democracy, and a lot of hard work is required to build a mature democracy. However, care must be taken to ensure the nation’s democracy is not killed in its infancy.

Translated by Perry Svensson

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