Can Ma Ying-jeou Hide the Cracks in the Facade?

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Sunday May 18, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Ma Ying-jeou's inauguration is near at hand; the visitors are arriving and the press will have their cameras out. To be sure his speech will be full of promises and more promises and will paint a rosy picture of the future but despite all that the cracks in the fa蓷de are widening. First of course Ma's 6-3-3 pre-election promise (6 percent growth, 3 percent unemployment and an average income of NT$30,000 a month has already been abandoned. Almost immediately after his election the Pan-blue press began to make excuses as to why he might not fulfill this promise. Ma later confirmed these predictions. Taiwan's economic growth this past year was near 5.13 percent; it had averaged 4.1 percent between 2000 and 2003. The global average has generally been around 3.2 percent so Ma's promise to make Taiwan's growth to 6 percent was the first to fall. As for the other two promises, don't count on them either.

Then Taipei Deputy Mayor Samuel Wu, one of Ma's key men, was accused of taking bribes. Wu was director of the Taipei City's Research, Development and Evaluation Commission between 1999 and 2003 and director of the city's Civil Affairs Department from 2003--2004, all during Ma's term as mayor. He was also deputy director of Ma's New Taiwanese Foundation between 2004--2006, and one of Ma's top aides. However at the same time (2004--2006) Lai Fu Trading Company, an arms dealers and a contractor paid Wu a NT$90,000 monthly consulting fee for a project completed in June 2006. In the following December Wu switched back to become Taipei Deputy Mayor. Lai Fu Trading company is the same one that won a bid to become a contractor for the construction of Taipei city's Neihu MRT line in 2003. As Wu switched back and forth between Ma's foundation, the private and the public sector, Ma's city government approved Lai Fu's private sector work. It soon became hard to figure whose payroll Wu was on at any particular time if not both. Whatever, he was doing, he was profiting, but now Wu has resigned. This will be a trial to follow.

Wu wasn't the only caught worker of Ma, Yu Wen, the secretary of Taiwan's Mr. Clean was given one year in the slammer, despite his recent appeals. Yu took the fall for Ma. Ma was found not-guilty because of insufficient evidence that he knew he was misusing his special allowance during his eight year tenure as Taipei mayor. Yu on the other hand was found guilty. Though Ma is touted for his law degree from Harvard University, he conveniently did not know what Yu was doing and what laws he was violating. Yessss. When it is to your advantage it is always best to develop a "don't ask" attitude, just spend and save. Ma now moves into the limbo of presidential immunity, but Wu who had forged receipts in order to apply for funds for Ma goes to jail. During his eight year term Ma managed to get US$400,000; not bad to pocket an extra US$50,000 a year out of ignorance. Prediction: Watch for Ma to try to find a way to grant a presidential pardon to the man who took the fall for him. Dilemma: How can he pull it off while the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) wants to take Chen Shui-bian to trial for a similar misuse of funds.

Troubles on different fronts? Will anyone take Ma Ying-jeou seriously? While the pan-blue media stressed that Ma would bring peace and prosperity to the region, the United States and Japan both said "thanks, but no thanks" to Ma's request that he visit them before his inauguration. China in the meantime received Ma's KMT opponent Lien Chan and will meet in the future with the KMT Chairman Wu. Does no one want to meet the region's Savior? Ma, the man who pledged to protect Taiwan's sovereignty, has already waffled and said he is willing to accept the humiliating name of Chinese Taipei to gain entrance into the World Health Association.

The Ma presidency soon begins. While we await his inaugural speech, it will be interesting to see how much he specifically commits himself to. In his campaign he promised everything to everyone. Can we expect more of the same? This time there will be more than the na鴳e Taiwan voters listening.