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Miracle at economic crossroads

Publication Date : 28-09-2012


President Ma Ying-jeou has responded to public outrage at the government for lacking a remedy to salvage Taiwan's poor economy by giving Premier Sean Chen one month to make improvements.

The order is ridiculous. Chen has been in office for about seven months, during which he has been unable to improve the economy. How can we count on him to work miracles in just one month, particularly at a time when the global economy is showing no sign of rebounding?

If he succeeds in bringing substantial improvements to Taiwan's economy, the public would probably suspect that the premier and his Cabinet must have been procrastinating for the previous seven months.

Of course, what constitutes improvements has yet to be specified, so maybe a drop by a tiny fraction of a percentage point in the unemployment rate could be sufficient.

A repeat of the “22K” programme — nicknamed after the monthly pay of NT$22,000 (US$750) — could be an option, offering short-term employment to young people with government subsidies.

The 22K programme was successful in doing a cosmetic job of boosting employment, but it never addressed the long-term problem facing a generation of young people whose future looks gloomy.

But short-term effects should be enough to save the premier and his Cabinet their jobs. And actually no specific commitment to quitting in the event of failure has been made by Cabinet officials.

The recent Cabinet reshuffle has only seen changes to officials handling cross-strait and foreign affairs, while the economic and financial team remains intact, despite lawmakers and critics vehemently calling for their heads.

Premier Chen has also survived a no-confidence vote, thanks to the ruling Kuomintang's majority control in the Legislature, and its lawmakers' willingness to toe the party line.

But how long can the premier and his ministers continue to stay in office? Some Kuomintang lawmakers have given them three months to improve the economy — slightly less demanding than Ma's one-month deadline.

Can we really expect anything significant to happen in one month, or in three months, except short-term improvements?

We have seen the government dragging its feet on many occasions. The row over the proposed minimum wage hikes has been going on for months. The labour minister, Jennifer Wang, has been insisting on raising both the monthly and hourly minimum wages, but one minister without portfolio, Kuang Chung-ming, has disagreed, citing impact on employers' production costs and Taiwan's competitiveness.
We don't need to take sides, but the government does.

The government must have already studied all the pros and cons of the wage issue, and a decision should have been made long ago.

What's really standing in the way has been the premier's lack of determination and courage to take sides. Taiwan's government officials are typically keen to please all, which is quite impossible in the real world.

The Cabinet yesterday finally made a decision: the monthly wage remains the same, while the hourly pay will go up.

Wang immediately announced her resignation, but President Ma asked her to stay on. It is unlikely that she will change her mind.

What is the point of making her stay to implement a policy that she does not support?

Is asking her to stay a show of recognition of her achievements as the labour minister? What achievements? She has failed to materialise the wage hike commitment she made to the nations' workers.

When a Cabinet needed months to resolve an “internal” conflict, what can we expect to happen in one month?

Taiwan's economy is at a crossroads, and it is imperative that the government show us a direction for long-term development. But we haven't seen it, and we can't expect to see one in a month's time.

Resolve, vision and careful planning are required to revive Taiwan's economy, which our government clearly lacks.


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