Will a New Broom (Ko Wen-Je) Sweep Clean?
Monday February 16, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.
The first month of Ko Wen-je's term as mayor of Taipei is not even over and the city residents are already finding themselves on the bow end of a fast learning curve in politics and elections, as well as resultant factors of decision making, accountability and transparency.
That Ko is a surgeon and with some eleven years emergency room experience as well as exercising practiced skills in organ transplants might influence his style. As such, unlike a traditional politician, he is used to the pressure and accountability of having to make split second life-or-death decisions.
Thus it was no surprise that in his first weeks of office he announced the removal of bus lanes in front of the Taipei Main Station and gave residents in the Taipei's Gonguan business area the right to choose whether to have certain lanes scooter free or not. Whether those citizens will come to regret their decision to allow scooter traffic there or not is in itself a lesson in accountability and responsibility for choices. They made the choice and have to live with it.
However, more important in his first month of office is Ko's immediate questioning of how past city contracts seem to have been granted with little concern for accountability. "Ridiculous" is the term he used for the contract on the Taipei Dome contract, which will see the city helpless to defend itself if Farglory Land Development Co does not deliver the goods on time or even reneges on parts of the contract.
Other projects like the Taipei New Horizon building in the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park and the MeHAS City development project have fallen under a similar type of scrutiny, and this, if nothing else, has made the public realize how transparency has been lacking in the past.
Too much has been done without the public's knowledge. Is this because former mayors and city councilors have been asleep at the wheel on numerous contracts? Has collusion been involved in the granting or plum contracts or even worse have under-the-table payoffs been made?
Former Taipei mayor, Hau Lung-bin, who no doubt plans to run for president next year is naturally upset at this scrutiny for it will certainly reflects badly on his management abilities. It implies baggage that he would not want to carry forward to a presidential campaign.
Hau has challenged Ko's examination saying that Ko has not considered all of the facts and has claimed that his administration can stand up to scrutiny, but is this true? The outcome will be known before next year.
There are already other practical examples on a smaller scale of what this is bringing to light. Those that live near Tun Hua Boulevard in Taipei, might remember how not that long ago under Hau Lung-bin's mayor ship, the road was torn up to create a special bike lane. No sooner was the bike lane built than it was determined to be impractical and the road was returned to its original state.
The end result of all this was that traffic was disrupted and two large contracts were handed out both to build the bike lane and then restore the road to its original state. Who paid for that? The taxpayers did. Was it good transparent planning? That is what the public must ask.
Hau's past eight years of leadership are not the only ones that are under scrutiny. Ko's actions have made citizens question why there was so little action for the previous last eight years when now-president Ma Ying-jeou was Taipei mayor. Lack of transparency and accountability, as well as dubious accomplishments over the past sixteen years were evident. However, where were the watchdogs? Where were the members of the city council? What took the citizens so long to wake up?
One cannot deny that it was certainly a fortuitous choice or even a piece of luck that Ko chose to run as an independent candidate—thus removing himself from traditional party disputes and loyalties. One can only wonder and imagine what would have transpired with business as usual if former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei mayoral candidate Sean Lien had been sworn in. There would probably have been no real questioning of Hau's "dealings" just as there had been no questioning of Ma's dealings when Hau took over.
Does a new broom sweep clean? Perhaps, but this does not mean that all independent candidates should be elected by virtue of their simply being independent. True, in this case a fresh face, a new perspective and new ideals have proven to be a way to break the deadlock of past stagnation.
One can certainly venture that the Taipei residents chose wisely and that Ko's reception and penchant for action is being recognized. This does not give Ko a free pass in the upcoming years and it also does not mean that he will not make mistakes, but his actions in his first month have been a welcome breath of fresh air.
This brings Taipei residents back to their learning curve. For here there are many other questions that they as well as city workers must ask themselves. Why have city workers indulged in apparent negligence over the past 16 years? Have they have been cowed into simply rubber-stamping and not questioning the many previous contracts that have been made?
While this soul-searching and recognition of a learning curve must continue, these are very positive and true signs of a developing democracy. Hopefully citizens will continue in this process and recognize the need to vote for more than just image or hackneyed party dogma.
It took a long while for Ma's poor performance and nine percent ratings as president to be brought to light as well as his pseudonyms "bumbler" and "Ma the incompetent." This part of the voters' learning curve was slow, but it did come.
As a result one senses from this that those planning on running presidency next year had better be prepared for the scrutiny of this new type of citizenry.