At a June 7, 1996 press conference, Premier (and concurrently vice president) Lien Chan unveiled the goal of the new cabinet--"To scale the peaks of global competitiveness: Promises and methods to carry over into the next century." He also unveiled the list of new cabinet officials--the people who would be responsible for carrying out this enormous task--that had just been formally approved by the Kuomintang Central Standing Committee the next morning.
The reshuffle of high-level officials was preceded by great public expectations and intense media speculation. In today's highly democratic environment, the list drew unprecedented attention, challenges, and questioning. This was particularly the case in the Legislative Yuan. The two main opposition parties (the Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, and the New Party) began a boycott, demanding that the president submit his nominee for the premiership to the legislature for approval. There was even talk of impeaching the speaker and vice-speaker of the Legislative Yuan. Such developments multiplied the pressure on the new cabinet members. And President Lee Teng-hui's promise that people would "see results within six months" has meant that the largely new cabinet (over 70% of which is new, with only 11 of 40 former cabinet members remaining) has had to go into a "sprint" right at the beginning of the race toward the target of "clean and efficient government."
Of course, every citizen hopes for efficiency and incorruptibility, and these are the areas long criticized by the public. Whether or not Taiwan can bite the bullet and crack down on corruption will be decisive in determining whether it can achieve a competitive advantage in East Asia in the future.
A general blueprint of future policies can be sketched out from the tasks mentioned by new officials when they took office and from measures already begun.
Minister of the Interior Lin Feng-cheng: Lin began his political career at the local level, and recently served as deputy governor of Taiwan Province. His goals are "speed, quality, and comprehensiveness" in serving the public. He also plans to draw on the strength of religious and social groups to improve social mores. Another important focus will be improving public safety and fighting crime.
Foreign Minister John H. Chang: As minister of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission, Chang kept in close contact with overseas Chinese, and frequently met with voters during the National Assembly campaign early this year. In the eyes of colleagues, Chang is an articulate and skilled communicator, and can wash away the traditional conservative image of the Foreign Ministry. He took the initiative to hold a press conference at which he announced there would be no difference in weight given to foreign policy vs. mainland policy, nor would there be prioritization between them. Also, he noted that while returning to the United Nations was important, it was not a priority objective.
Since taking office, Chang has already twice spoken on Beijing's policies toward Taiwan. First, at the swearing-in ceremony, he called on the PRC to promise that "Chinese will not fight Chinese." And in his first press conference, he pointed out that if Beijing continues its efforts to isolate the Republic of China in the international community, this will only serve to encourage the emergence of "the Republic of Taiwan."
As for the problem of relations with South Africa, an issue presently getting a lot of attention, Chang said that relations between the two nations are stable, and that the two share similar political situations and ideals. Thus the relationship should not change.
Minister of Education Wu Jin: Scholar Wu Jin spent a long time in the US, and made a number of innovations in only 20 months as president of National Cheng Kung University, greatly increasing the reputation of both the university and himself. He is one of the new "scholar-experts" being brought into the cabinet; he was a "dark horse" selection not anticipated by the media.
Wu is known for innovative thinking and fast work. As soon as he took office, he immediately met with the premier and also with Lee Yuan-tseh (head of the Commission on Educational Reform) to discuss principles and a timetable for reform. He also met with bureau and office chiefs in the Ministry to get a handle on affairs within the institution. The frequency of meetings has left his staff breathless, but there is no time to be lost: Critical events in education--the examination season in July and August, and the due date of the educational reform report in October--are fast approaching. With countless parents and students holding high expectations, it seems likely that Wu will be under even more public scrutiny than other ministers.
On June 17, the recently installed Wu, looking not to let the public down, invited Lee Yuan-tseh to the Ministry to talk with officials from various departments, and discuss educational concepts and policy face-to-face. The meetings, which were also open to the media, achieved a consensus on the idea of transforming Taiwan's system from "elite education" to "universal education." Beginning from the two areas of curriculum reform and establishment of small schools and small class sizes at the lower levels of primary school, Wu and Lee both stated that the Ministry of Education spent too much time on affairs not particularly related to education. They hoped that responsibility for monitoring leisure activities like video game parlors and golf courses could be shifted out of the Ministry, so that it could focus on education and education alone. They called on all parents, teachers, principals, Ministry personnel, and anyone concerned about education to "roll up their sleeves" and set to work.
Minister of Justice Liao Cheng-hao: Before taking over at Justice, Liao was head of the Bureau of Investigation (BIO). His greatest challenge is to thoroughly root out "crime and corruption."
Naturally, Liao will not go lightly in this policy area that so many people are deeply concerned about. Liao will be under especially strong pressure to perform working in the shadow of his predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou. Ma was the minister most strongly favored by public opinion, and his removal from office sparked the greatest amount of controversy and generated the most sympathy from the media for any outgoing official. Under the public eye, Liao demonstrated the government's determination to crack down on wrongdoing by citing two cases recently broken by the BOI--the CKS International Airport bid-rigging scandal and the Chou Jen-shen video arcade payoff case.
Nevertheless, people remain worried by the penetration of crime and corruption into local politics and elections. The question of rooting out malfeasance will affect the success of the cabinet's goals of "effectiveness, incorruptibility, and competitiveness," the ability of the ruling party to maintain its hold on power, and the possibility of Taiwan achieving its goal of entering the ranks of the most developed nations. For Liao, who combines training in legal scholarship with administrative ability and practical experience, this will be the greatest challenge.
Minister of Finance Paul C.H. Chiu: Over the past year, aside from the presidential elections and the storm clouds in relations with mainland China, probably the biggest story has been the turmoil in the financial sector, especially the series of illegal-loan scandals and runs that have occurred in farmers' and fishermen's associations' financial institutions and in banking cooperatives. If loopholes in the system are not closed, basic social stability could be affected.
Coming to the Ministry from his post as Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of China, Chiu has called for financial reform and laid out several policy directions. Future financial reform will include elements at the local level covering local governments and farmers' and fishermen's associations, strengthening auditing, and establishing specialized managers to assess risk in loans and investments. Reforms at the central level will cover banks, the currency market, the foreign exchange market, futures, and insurance; the goal will be to raise international competitiveness.
Another focus of policy will be the fiscal reform plans repeatedly mentioned by President Lee, including the "two taxes into one" and "tax reduction" ideas. These are also aimed at creating an ideal environment for international competitiveness of low taxes and "obstacle-free" investment. Because the tax system is complex, and involves many levels, and reform of the revenue system will affect the interests and lives of all citizens, Chiu plans to create a commission as soon as possible that will bring together businessmen, officials, and scholars; Chiu wants them to produce a preliminary plan of action within four months.
Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Chih-kang: Wang, formerly head of the Fair Trade Commission, has been praised by outsiders as having "the most ability to coordinate and harmonize." He can bring this to bear at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, which is one of the most important institutions in the effort to raise international competitiveness. He faces a number of urgent problems. One is how to balance economic growth and environmental protection in a Taiwan that is densely crowded and has already suffered serious ecological damage and pollution. Another is how to create a sound investment environment that will keep local capital at home and attract foreign investment.
Should the fourth nuclear power plant be built, and, if so, what is the best way to guarantee its safety? How much more land is there for industry, and how should it be acquired? How can the environment be protected? Wang faces a tough battle ahead, and his success or failure will affect Taiwan's future and the lives of future generations.
Environmental Protection Administrator H.H. Tsai: Tsai holds a PhD from the school of architecture and planning at Princeton University, and his last post was as a vice-chairman of the Council for Economic Planning and Development. As soon as he took office he announced that the future direction for policy will be the mutual support and growth of environmental protection and the economy, with the goal of sustainable development of Taiwan's environment.
Tsai has promised to step up enforcement of environmental laws, strengthen corporate responsibility for the environment, and meet more often with environmental groups, elected officials, and the media. However, Tsai's own academic and policy background and the cabinet's overall mission of raising competitiveness point to giving economic growth first priority. Environmentalists are concerned about whether the "gatekeeper" function of environmental assessments for major developmental plans will be well-executed, and over how "sustainable development" will be implemented. The new EPA administrator will look closely at how neighboring industrial countries like Japan and Singapore have handled these problems, problems about which Taiwan's public is deeply concerned.
Council for Economic Planning and Development Chairman P.K. Chiang: No matter what the field of play, P.K. Chiang--who has experience as a local official, a PhD in agricultural economics from Tokyo University, and a reputation for being energetic and capable--always gets a great deal of attention. His new role as CEPD chairman will be no exception. While it is easy to talk about trying to become number five in the world in terms of international competitiveness, Chiang has been doing something about it. On May 1, even before formally taking over at the CEPD, Chiang had already presented the Kuomintang Central Standing Committee with a report entitled "Raising International Competitiveness." It is said that this report was praised at the highest levels.
As soon as he took over at the CEPD, Chiang started analysis of key problems. Within a week the CEPD had completed an item-by-item review of the Global Competitiveness Report of the International Management Development Institute (IMDI) in Lausanne, Switzerland. On June 17, a multi-agency meeting was held, and each ministry was asked to produce a plan for all the items under its jurisdiction in terms of improving competitiveness. Concrete proposals were expected within two weeks.
The Lausanne competitiveness assessment is divided into eight evaluations, covering 225 separate items. Taiwan performed least satisfactorily in terms of financial capability, degree of internationalization, and basic infrastructure. Taiwan finished 35th or lower in a number of specific items--openness of capital markets, modernization of financial laws and regulations, internal trade, national protectionism, and immigration law.
It is expected that, of the areas in which Taiwan lags, rapid progress can be made in terms of laws and regulations conducive to liberalization and internationalization. But there are a number of innate limitations in terms of basic infrastructure, such as difficulties in fixing problems in energy and land availability. The only option is to seek progress in those areas within the realm of possibility--basic technology and transportation projects.
Of course, people outside the CEPD are worried that all this might come to naught. The CEPD may work hard to coordinate among all agencies produce ideas to move Taiwan up in the rankings, but there might be no real improvement in competitiveness. However, given that the detailed evaluations of an institution at the level of the IMDI are not just based on on-paper responses, but rather all have objective standards of evaluation, the responsibilities of the CEPD should be very concrete.
Minister of Transportation and Communications Tsay Jaw-yang: The projects under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications are the key to whether the dream of Taiwan becoming an "Asia-Pacific Regional Operations Center" can be realized. They are also evidence of national competitiveness. It is said that Tsay, at one time head of the Construction and Planning Administration of the Ministry of the Interior and most recently executive vice minister at the MOTC, was named to his new post in order to play to his strength of keeping a close watch on the progress of construction projects. However, many projects currently behind schedule--such as the second phase of construction at CKS International Airport, the second north-south freeway, and the high-speed railway--are not only running into engineering problems. They are also facing "non-engineering" factors created by local governments, elected officials, and interest groups.
Another challenge faced by the MOTC is how to construct the air, sea, and telecommunications centers that are part of the Regional Operations Center scheme. Tsai considers this one of his core tasks. It's just that he has relatively little experience in these areas, so it will take a major effort. Despite the fact that the MOTC gets a larger percentage of the central government budget than any other ministry, Tsai's job is not an enviable one.
Council of Agriculture Chairman Tjiu Mau-ying: Tjiu was brought into the cabinet from the Taiwan Provincial Department of Agriculture and Forestry. He must go directly into action right from the start. The financial turmoil at farmers' and fishermen's associations has made putting these associations on a sound footing an urgent task. Tjiu has already put forth a preliminary concept for the unification of management of these associations. However, implementation would require the cooperation of the Ministry of Finance and local governments, so it cannot be rushed.
Because the basic theme for the new cabinet is to "raise competitiveness," several of the front-line agencies--the MOEA, the CEPD, the MOTC, and the Ministry of Justice--are moving relatively quickly. Others, like the Ministry of Education and the Foreign Ministry, are setting up programs to achieve key goals like education reform or getting back into the UN General Assembly. The new heads of the remaining agencies are mainly picking up where their predecessors left off, focusing on handling those matters they are responsible for, so they are getting less media attention.
In this cabinet reshuffle, though there are many new faces, there are still many familiar players from the political stage (though perhaps in new roles). There were also several well-respected officials, affirmed by citizens and elected officials, who left their posts most reluctantly. During the ceremonies in which the seals of office were officially turned over, some officials had strong words to say, generating much controversy in society.
In fact, in a democratic society it is normal that people express doubts and opposition, and opposition parties have a natural right to criticize. Skeptical queries are also part of the professional duties of the media. The criticism from elected representatives and government officials was perhaps due to inadequate communication before and after the event (though this is just a guess inferred from the comments made to the media by some people involved). In any case, two things are certain: First, the hard tests for these cabinet officials have just begun. Second, they are working under a six-month deadline to produce results, and already one month is gone!
Contemplating the difficult tasks ahead of them, the new cabinet members all wear solemn expressions. (photo by Pu Hua-chih)