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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times Furtive government deals disturbing

Furtive government deals disturbing

Following the ruckus last month in which the government took the public and the legislature by surprise with its sudden announcement that it was lifting a ban on US bone-in beef imports, the government did it again on Monday night: It blitzed the public and lawmakers with a declaration that it had signed a financial memorandum of understanding (MOU) with China.

Both dealings followed an extremely disturbing pattern, in which government officials by day appeared all ears at public hearings and legislative meetings, saying they were interested in gathering input from the public and lawmakers before they would proceed with the issues they had at hand — only to have the government announce deals sealed in black and white later the same night.

These two incidents highlighted not just the degree to which the government holds the public and the legislature in contempt, but also accentuated President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) and Premier Wu Den-yih’s (吳敦義) lack of credibility. Prior to Monday, Ma and Wu had repeatedly said that the contents of the planned MOU would be submitted to the legislature for review and that the government would conduct negotiations in accordance with “the guiding principle of pursuing the public’s support and the legislature’s oversight” before signing the MOU.

It says much about the government’s regard for public support and legislative scrutiny that officials found themselves needing to make guarded dealings at night, shying away from broad daylight.

Financial Supervisory Commission Chairman Sean Chen (陳冲) said both sides exchanged signed documents at 6pm on Monday. If the MOU had met with public approval and passed lawmakers’ appraisal as the president and the premier had promised, wouldn’t it have been a celebratory matter? Wouldn’t the government have held a press conference early in the morning with festive aplomb, instead of releasing a public announcement on the inking of the MOU at a press conference at a time when most government agencies closed for the day?

From the opaque manner in which the government conducted negotiations with other countries in the recent US beef and MOU talks and the way in which it ambushed its people with sudden announcements after the fact, it would come as no surprise if we were to wake up one day to find that the government had already signed an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China despite the lack of domestic consensus on the matter.

Public discourse and debate on issues that pertain to public welfare and national interests is an essential feature in a democracy. Regrettably, as is evident from the government’s recent displays of arrogant obliviousness to public opinion and legislative oversight in its dealings on matters of great importance to the public’s welfare and interests, it appears that one-party dominance, about which many have expressed concern, is slowly taking hold, with the legislature becoming ineffective in its role of keeping the executive branch in check.

Taiwan’s democracy has been lauded by many, at home and abroad, including by Ma himself. It is hoped that the next chapter of Taiwan’s success story would not have an unfortunate twist in which the government conceals an autocratic character by means of a pseudo-democratic cover.

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2009/11/19

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A report released by US rights watchdog Freedom House on Monday said that although many Taiwanese are in favor of improving economic and trade ties with China, critics believe the government has made concessions on sovereignty, that cross-strait policies have developed too quickly and that the process lacks transparency.

On Jan. 12, the Washington-based Freedom House released the political rights and civil liberties scores for its Freedom in the World 2010 survey. Taiwan’s political rights rating improved from 2 to 1, but its civil liberties rating dropped from 1 to 2.