Taipei Elections, a Matter of Quality

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Friday July 09, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

The November elections approach and the voters of Taipei have many questions to ask. One important question concerns the quality of Mayor Hau Lung-bin's past leadership. When it comes to quality, whether it is Quality Assurance, Quality Control and/or Quality Management, those familiar with the topic would know the name of Philip Crosby, author of "Quality is Free" (1979). In that work, Crosby gives his famous maxim, "Do it right the first time." Crosby's maxim is simple and direct, and it explains the title of his book. If a person, a company, a mayor, or the mayor's staff does something right the first time, there will be no need for the cost of re-doing it or for the cost for repairs. In other words, quality will be free.

Has quality been free in Taipei? This is an important question for Taipei citizens to ask in looking back over the past decade that includes eight years of Ma Ying-jeou's leadership as Mayor, followed by the recent four years of Hau Lung-bin.

One does not have to dig to dredge up a long laundry list of failed Taipei projects. Ironically, Ma raised this issue by himself and tested the credibility of the voters just recently when the Maokong Gondola was re-opened after two years of repairs. Giving his perfunctory speech, Ma praised Hau for the quality of the work. Say what? Did Ma not remember how he and Hau were stuck in the sweltering gondola when it broke down on opening day? Did he not remember the washed out foundations of the pillars supporting it? Maokong Gondola was begun during the reign of Ma, and completed under Hau. It was not done right the first time, and many are still hesitant to ride it.

Then of course there was the MRT's Wenshan-Neihu Line an extension of the Muzha Line (Brown Line); again it was a project begun under Ma's reign and completed under Hau. Perhaps we should not say completed, but rushed to near completion, because unfortunately the Matra System did not quite communicate with the newly installed Bombardier System. Good planning? Not quite. Rushed decisions? To be sure. Done right the first time? No way. Those who ride the system are well aware of its many breakdowns and delays. How costly was that quality? Enormous. And the citizens of Taipei are still not sure that they are out of the woods.

Now Mayor Hau should not completely shoulder the blame for the Maokong Gondola or the Muzha extension/ Wenshan-Neihu Line. They were all begun under Ma Ying-jeou's watch, but that leaves Hau in a tough position. Should he place the blame for the lack of quality on Ma or take it upon his own shoulders? Both Ma and Hau belong to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Ma is the current President of Taiwan. It is not easy to admit the lack of quality is one's own fault but it also is not easy to foist it on the President.

There are many other examples, but let us look at one that is more recent and one that is more clearly of Hau's making, the Tun Hua South Road Bicycle Path. Those that live in that area will well remember how both sides of the road were torn up for months to construct a lane for cyclists. It seemed a good idea; someone got a nice fat contract to carry it out, and it seemed the cyclists of the city had a protected lane for their use. But then, well... there were complaints. It seemed proper consultation had not been followed, the planning was not complete and the final outcome? Someone got another nice fat contract to tear it all up and repave the road.

Is quality free here? Have things been done right the first time in Taipei? This is the tough reality that the citizens of Taipei must face in the election. Do they really know the total costs not only for these items but for all the other projects and costs that they have borne for the past twelve years under Ma and Hau? Do they want more of the same? Quality should be free.