Ma Ying-jeou's Continued Avoidance of Transparency

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Sunday May 25, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

The occupation of the Legislative Yuan has passed, and the legislature's agreement to discuss and debate the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) before approval appears to be back on track. Whether Ma Ying-jeou and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) of which he is the chairman will keep their promise, remains to be seen. Similarly the fast of Lin I-hsiung and the numerous protests against continuation of the building of the 4th Nuclear Power Plant seem to have achieved their purpose. The building of that plant has been temporarily suspended. Whether there will also be the proper discussion and debate on nuclear power's safety, and its role producing energy for Taiwan again remains to be seen. Nonetheless, whatever the outcome, in both cases, one thing has stood out, namely that the residue of the KMT's past one-party state rule still hangs over Taiwan like a pungent odor.

From the numerous posters and cartoons in the occupation of the Legislative Yuan there can be no doubt that the recognition of the double-speak and duplicity of Ma has clearly filtered down to the young. That same lack of trust has also become evident with the protests on nuclear power and the fact that the protests did not stop with the simple KMT promise that they would look into it. In both cases, when the smoke had settled down and the streets were cleared, what remained staring everyone in the face was the continued avoidance of transparency and accountability by Ma and his party as well as their inability to deal with the situation in a democratic way.

In each of the two cases above, the consistent mantra of Ma and the KMT had been to repeat their well-worn cliché, "Trust us; we alone know what is best for the country. Don't try to examine and discuss who may actually be profiting in these matters." That mantra is not selling anymore.

This black box of avoiding transparency has certainly been the key strategy in Ma's handling of the TiSA proposal. We are not talking about the initial need countries have to negotiate in privacy; that is understood. But rather what we are talking about is the avoidance and lack of any discussion of what terms actually were agreed upon in each industry once the negotiations were done.

With their majority in the Legislative Yuan, the KMT is pretty well guaranteed achieving the passage of TiSA, so the obvious question is, why don't they want the details of this agreement discussed item by item as the majority of the people want. If the trade deal is as beneficial as they claim, why not have it be demonstrated item by item. This is the natural way for all to be convinced. Lack of time cannot be used as an excuse, for the foiled attempt to try to slip the agreement through without discussion has already delayed its approval more than was expected. There has to be something more and the lack of transparency appears to be the rub.

What the aim of passing the agreement without discussion purposely avoids demonstrating is who and what sectors are profiting and who and what sectors are not? These are the details that the Ma government does not want transparently exposed. A blanket pass could slip these details by until it was too late and the damage is done; but to have an item by item discussion and the open passing of agreements harmful to particular industries is something that no legislator or president wants to face. The damage to numerous industries would increasingly be evident as the discussions were taking place.

The same can be said of the matter of the 4th nuclear power plant. When Lin I-hsiung began his fast, he made it clear that he would not oppose the completion of the plant if it were properly examined, debated and approved in the Legislative Yuan; it was his wish that the legislature along with the Executive Yuan would accept accountability and take full responsibility for their decisions. Whatever personal reasons Lin held in opposing nuclear power for Taiwan, he would bow to the democratic process.

What Lin was stating repeatedly is that those in authority should not pass the buck. The Executive Yuan and the Legislative Yuan were the ones responsible for the safety of the plant and the country; they should do their duty and not pass responsibility off to a birdcage referendum. Avoidance of transparency and a dodgy smokescreen again appeared to be the government's modus operandi.

But this growing lack of and avoidance of transparency by the Ma government is not all. Another disturbing factor is also taking place. For those that walk the streets of downtown Taipei, more and more barbed wire is going up, especially around government buildings. More and more barricades are being erected. What is happening? Is this a democratic president who professes to know what the people feel? Something is missing?

To the outside world, Ma Ying-jeou regularly makes the claim that relations between "democratic" Taiwan, the USA and China are the best they have ever been; yet citizens inside Taiwan obviously question this and wonder. Why is Taipei looking more and more like a city under siege? Is this a democracy where all voices are being heard? Perhaps the veneer of the Ma administration has worn off. Martial law was lifted in Taiwan in 1987, some 27 years ago, yet the residue of the KMT's one-party state somehow still hangs over Taiwan like a pungent odor. Strange. ***

*** (Footnote: The recognition of Ma's lack of transparency will increase in Taiwan and result in the rejection of his party in the 2014 and 2016 elections.)