Spreading the Blame: the KMT Finds a New Excuse on Arms Delays

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Tuesday August 12, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

The farcical charade between Taiwan's Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the United States State Department over arms sales to Taiwan has reached a new level. For those uninformed, the old excuse as to why nothing happened was the past president, Chen Shui-bian. Remember him; he was the alleged trouble maker that stymied everything. Never mind the fact that it was Taiwan's KMT dominated Legislative Yuan that blocked the sales over 50 times; never mind the fact that the US State Department also couldn't bring itself to honor the Taiwan Relations Act for fear of offending China before the Olympics, Chen was the problem. Unfortunately he is not around now so how does the KMT explain the reality that progress is still not happening. Not to worry, the KMT's Lin Yu-fang (Chairman of the Legislative Yuan's Diplomacy and National Defense Committee), has come up with a new solution, a new excuse; "Everyone is to blame."

This brings to mind a cultural phenomenon from when I worked for Bechtel Engineering as Manager of Technology Transfer on Taipei's Mass Rapid Transit project. Most project papers and proposals were copied and sent to all at the managerial level and above to keep us informed on project developments and issues. On our counterpart side, in the Department of Raid Transit Systems (DORTS), these reports would go to the lower supervisory levels as well. Each section chief would receive and dutifully "chop" each piece of paper indicating that he/she had seen it, approved it and passed it on. Each person also had the option of adding a comment or criticism if so desired. Since project proposals and reports had to make these rounds this way before they could get final approval and be implemented, progress was often a slow, tedious, time consuming affair.

DORTS tried to counter this and speed the process up by offering financial incentives and rewards to those who passed on the greatest amount of paper in a given period of time. The new end result was that little was read in any detail; reports would get a quick glance, a chop and be passed on. Imagine supervisors competing by moving a piece of paper across their desks and stamping it in the same motion and you get the picture. However if a lower level person did deign to add a comment, that comment had to make the rounds again and be answered. This was not consensus building as happens in Japanese management style; it was a bureaucratic nightmare.

The bureaucratic system in which this took place was one that did not reward innovation or original thinking; but it did punish error. Error meant blame and blame was to be avoided at all costs. So an additional side effect came into play. It was realized that since everyone had given each paper a stamp of approval, when anything failed no one was solely responsible. All had chopped off on it. Each could say, "Well yes, I did put my chop on it, approving it, but so did some twenty or thirty others in my division." Even the Division Chief could pass the buck; "Yes, the project started at my desk, but everyone down the line approved it." Error could be spread across the board. If all were guilty, then none were guilty.

This is what we now see in Taiwan since Chen is not there to blame. Ma's government states that they are all for the arms sales. The US State Department says that they are ready and willing to sell. All profess they are doing their utmost but nothing, yes nothing is done. Why? How to explain that with all this alleged cooperation and support, progress is still not happening. This dance has been going on since long before 2005. Lin's answer is simple; everyone is to blame. If everyone is to blame, then no one is to blame. Case closed. It is not as clean as when Chen Shui-bian was the scapegoat but it works. Taiwan will be lucky if anything happens.