Taiwan as the World Turns, Questions of a Cheated Past

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Saturday February 21, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

The Pareto Principle is dead in Taiwan's bureaucracy. This principle frequently referred to as the 80/20 rule, means that 80 per cent of the effects in any given endeavor come from 20 per cent of causes. In quality control it means that 80 per cent of your product defects come from 20 per cent of the process; thus if a company can cure the 20 per cent, it will have eliminated 80 per cent of its problems. Looked at in a positive way 80 per cent of a company's sales come from 20 per cent of its customers. They should therefore be cultivated. Or 80 per cent of the work in an organization is done by 20 per cent of the people, and they should be rewarded properly. So what does this have to do with Taiwan's civil servant system?

In a recent evaluation it was revealed that on a four-level scale of "A to D," 99 per cent of Taiwan's civil servants got performance ratings of "A" or "B." Damn high by any standards. With those kinds of ratings, Taiwan's civil servants must be the most productive and efficient work force machine in the world. Hardly a trick is missed. But does evaluation match with the reality of service? If you query most people, they would have their doubts.

Taiwan's civil servant system is known to be one of the best "iron rice bowl" jobs one can ask for. One may not make bundles of money, but the work is steady, rarely stressful and one can hardly get fired. And at retirement time, one not only gets some 75 per cent of one's salary per month, plus a chunk of retirement money can be put into a bank account drawing 18 per cent interest a year. That is right, 18 per cent interest. Many people from high ranking officials down to lowly civil servants and teachers end up making more money per year in retirement than they did when they were employed.

This system is a carry over from the one-party state days of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) by which the KMT bought (via such perks) the loyalty of civil servants, military, and teachers. As long as they got such perks, those employees would allow the upper echelon KMT a lot of free reign in doing whatever else they pleased including the abuse of the human rights of the nation.

Without realizing it, most Taiwanese were selling their birthright of self-determination, free elections and liberty for a bowl of pottage. They were also blind to the fact that the KMT kept similar perks for themselves as well as many other additional benefits such as skimming off the top and keeping other choice plums that they did. The permanent seats in the Legislative Yuan and National Assembly were just one small example as well as all properties and benefits seized when they took over.

However, this carry-over of Taiwan's civil servant system is proving unsustainable in the transparency of modern times. One problem is that a different aspect of the 80/20 rule also works. 80 per cent of the work is done by 20 per cent of the staff. Unfortunately that means that to get the final 20 per cent of the work done, the government must hire an additional 80 per cent more staff. As for evaluations, certainly 99 per cent of the current workforce is not doing A or B quality work, and 18 per cent interest given those people on retirement is impossible in even the best of investments.

When they had a one-party state, the KMT could manipulate income, salaries, commodities etc. so that the perk was there, but not as good in reality as it was pretended. Such pretense is impossible in the greater transparency of a democratic system and a dilemma for the KMT. How can they run an efficient, transparent economy and still buy the loyalty of the workers. Sooner or later, they must disappoint, and that time is coming sooner. In the transparent world of today, the false promises of Ma Ying-jeou are readily apparent; hopefully also the people will see how too often in the past they sold their birthrights for bowls of pottage. They will also see that Ma wants them to sell their birthrights to Taiwan by holding up the illusion that their rescue lies in China.