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Taiwan officials attach more importance to personal affairs matters than policies

Publication Date : 28-07-2014


Taiwan's cabinet has lost two ministers in less than two weeks. Like many of their predecessors, they have resigned for personal reasons rather than the failure of their policies.

And very often these personal reasons have been allegations about extramarital affairs. The resignation of Pan Shi-wei as labor minister Thursday illustrates this: he decided to vacate his position after a tabloid magazine alleged that he was having an affair with his personal secretary.

The resignation of Chiang Wei-ling as education minister less than two weeks ago resulted from a different reason: he left after his academic integrity came under scrutiny over allegedly dubious reviews of research papers he co-authored.

We have no intention here to discuss whether the allegations concerning the two ministers — or many others who have stepped down before them — are actually true. In fact both of them have vehemently denied the allegations.

The implications of the accusations in the two latest cases are somewhat different. An extramarital affair would be a personal matter involving lying to one's wife or husband, which makes it more private than a case of a scholar lying to his academic peers. It implies that Chiang might to a certain extent deserve to lose his job more than Pan if the allegations were found to be true.

But we are not trying to work out a scale of the seriousness of personal wrongdoings. We are wondering why so many cabinet ministers have resigned because of reasons other than those directly relating to their work and policies.

We are talking about those who have resigned “voluntarily” rather than being “kicked out” after losing favour with the president or premier.

Why are these “voluntary” quitters, so eager to defend themselves, willing to take a fall over personal matters when others are reluctant to leave when their policies are at odds with most of the nation?

There may be officials who are so confident of themselves and their competence that they are not afraid to go against the entire nation when they think it is for the best.

But over the past decade or so, we have rarely seen any such competent or confident officials in our government.

We have instead seen many incompetent government officials who are reluctant to leave despite widespread calls for their heads from the nation.

We have a fresh example in the recently departed education minister.

Chiang has turned hundreds of thousands of high school students into guinea pigs in a disastrous experiment with reforms to the exam system in line with the implementation of the 12-year education program.

Of course, he came under pressure from President Ma Ying-jeou to implement the poorly designed program, and was trying to work out the details and make revisions along the way.

But when it was obvious that the changes he introduced were hugely problematic and unpopular, he refused to back down and resisted angry calls from numerous parents and educators for his resignation — until his academic integrity was questioned.

What we don't understand is why these government officials seem to care more about their personal reputation than the impact their work has on the nation.

It could be argued that they don't want their personal affairs to get in the way of their work. But hasn't it ever occurred to them that, as public figures, they have little privacy in the face of Taiwan's news-hungry media?

If they really don't want their personal lives to get in the way of their public work, they should be more careful about what they do: they should think twice before becoming embroiled in extramarital affairs or agreeing to put their names on academic papers they didn't actually write.

After all, it seems they are still able to stay on in their cabinet posts if their only crime is poor governance, whereas they are likely to lose their jobs over personal matters.


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