The Taiwan Banker NO.94106.10 / Interview and Writing: Liu Shu Ning
Political problems can be diagnosed, just as a doctor diagnoses illnessesTainan's Vice Mayor and Chairman of Singing Bus Company discusses William Lai, Taiwan's new premier
PrefaceErstwhile Tainan City mayor Lai Ching-te (William Lai) has been appointed as Taiwan's premier. Lai's record as Tainan mayor is excellent and has earned him the acclaim of Tainan residents and the entire country. Everyone believes that Lai's successful tenure in Tainan augurs good prospects for Taiwan's political situation.The article:Recently, an increasing number of former physicians are becoming politicians in Taiwan. In addition to William Lai, there are several other former doctors who have become politicians: Taipei City mayor Ko Wen-je, Chiayi mayor Twu Shiing-jer and future Kaohsiung mayoral candidate and former legislator Chen Chi-mai.When William Lai began in his role as premier, he said that in the future, Taiwan's Cabinet would be a Cabinet of "doers." He doesn't expect to have a honeymoon period and he's not worried about a learning curve. He believes timely action is paramount to helping Taiwan reform itself. This type of outlook is inspiring. Yet to truly win the people's confidence, Lai will have to oversee substantive change in Taiwan's society.A doctor's approach to urban policymakingTainan Vice Mayor Yan Chung-zuo previously worked with William Lai for six years. Yan too is a former physician. They knew each other when they served as legislators. Lai asked Yan to be his vice mayor after combining Tainan City and Tainan County. At the time, Yan had already served as Vice Mayor of Tainan County for six years. Yan has many good things to say about Lai's tenure as Tainan mayor. He believes Lai made the right decisions on many important issues.Lai is a practical, principled person. He brings a doctor's way of doing things to the position of premier. When doctors encounter health problems in patients, they provide a diagnosis and then a prescription to cure the illness. However, if a doctor's prescription is wrong, a patient's life may be threatened. Thus, doctors have great responsibility. This experience will serve Lai well in his new role as premier. For instance, with regards to the Bureau of Labor, Lai will need to listen to many different opinions at city council meetings, including the Bureau of Environmental Protection. He will need to take a holistic approach to decision making. Under Lai's leadership, there were some unique aspects of governance in Tainan. For instance, instead of having separate departments responsible for cultural and environmental protection policy, all the government departments were required to do this work. This made it easier to enact successful policies. Yan Chun-zhuo notes that William Lai has pointed out that in order to have a healthy heart, a person's other vital organs must also be in good shape. With this in mind, it's important for all of the city government's different departments to perform well to ensure sound governance overall.Many of William Lai's policies are held in high regard. What impressed Yan Chun-zhuo most was the termination in 2010 of legislators' discretionary budget allowances (money set aside for each legislator to suggest for use in projects). Lai thought that fixed amounts of money should not be allocated for each legislator. He favored a more centralized approach. He faced staunch resistance, but did not give in. Yet Lai's decision was fiscally wise. Tainan's outstanding debt has fallen by NT$1.62 billion over the past years. Last year, Tainan even ran a budget surplus.A humble man who never buckles under pressureChen Chi-rui, chairman of the Singing Bus Company and an opinion leader in Tainan's business community, lauds William Lai's modesty. He points out that whenever Lai poses for a photograph with his wife, Lai never stands in the center of the photo. Instead, he stands off to the side. That shows he is a humble man, Chen says.Further, Chen emphasizes that Lai is a principled man. He is resolute in the face of pressure - even unreasonable pressure. Compared to his predecessor, he has a deeper connection to the Taiwanese people and has more support from them, Chen says. Having a base of popular support amongst the people is essential for senior government officials. Officials must understand people's needs and feel their pain. Additionally, Lai reduced Tainan's debt in a pragmatic way, even though it meant he had a smaller budget to work with. Lai wanted to ensure his successor would not be burdened by city coffers in the red, Chen says, adding that such an attitude is rarely seen amongst officials in Taiwan.Yan Chun-zhuo offers another example of William Lai's strong character. When Lai visited China, the president of Fudan University asked him if the DPP would be willing to remove the independence clause from its party charter. Lai replied that even if the DPP were to give up on Taiwan independence, the Taiwanese people would still have a say in the matter. Thus, removing the independence clause is not the answer, Lai explained.One fixed day off, one flexible day off; pension reform; the electricity shortageAs he assumes the role of Taiwan premier, William Lai has many tasks. Which issues should he address first? Representing the private sector, Chen thinks that revitalizing Taiwan's economy should be the priority; the country should be wealthy and secure. Chen also thinks that Taiwan's lagging competitiveness needs to be addressed. When its economy boomed from the 1960s to 1980s, Taiwan was known as one of Asia's four tigers (the other three were Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong). But those days are long gone. Meanwhile, China has become the world's No. 2 economy. How can Taiwan revitalize itself? This is something that must be resolved.In Yan Chun-zhuo's view, the priority for William Lai should be to amend the "one fixed day off, one flexible day off" policy. In Tainan, more than 75% of workers and 80% hope the law can be revised. Currently, 17 of Taiwan's cities and counties don't plan to follow the law. If Tainan does adhere to the law, it will show itself to be a leader in Taiwan and have more impact on the economy and labor market, Yan says.The second priority for Lai should be to deepen pension reform, Yan says. He notes that reforms have been implemented for civil servants and teachers. Next should be the military. Regarding the large number of workers, Yan believes Lai will handle things practically. Pension reform must be looked at as a comprehensive treatment plan, just as a doctor evaluates a patient's condition using lots of different data before making the diagnosis, Yan says.The third priority for Lai should be to resolve Taiwan's electricity shortage. There is a disparity between the electricity needs of the north and the rest of the country. The north has a larger population and needs more electricity. Yan estimates more than half of Taiwan's population lives in the north. Sometimes electricity needs to be transferred from south to north. Meanwhile, in the face of rising global temperatures, Taiwan's goal of being nuclear-free by 2025 could be difficult to achieve. At present, Taiwan doesn't have the ability to replace its nuclear power with alternative energy sources. It is paramount to ensure sufficient electricity and water for business operations.Fourthly, cross-Strait relations need to be managed. Any change to the status quo must be approved by the Taiwanese people. Taiwan's Cabinet should take the lead on cross-Strait relations rather than city governments. Yan believes that cross-Strait relations will not further deteriorate. He says that Taiwan should find ways to derive benefits from economic ties with China, but maintain its sovereignty. This will be a challenge that William Lai must take on.Balance development in northern and southern Taiwan and link up with the worldAdditionally, Yan points out that there is a gap in development between northern and southern Taiwan. It's important to figure out a way for Taiwan to develop in a balanced way, he says. Since so many of Taiwan's important institutions are concentrated in Taipei, in the event of a war, the enemy could easily target them. In Yan's view, the Presidential Palace could be moved to Tainan, the Executive Yuan to Taichung; Tainan could be Taiwan's political and cultural center; Taipei would be the business and financial center, and Kaohsiung the industrial center. Yan believes that this would balance development in Taiwan. He suggests that each city in Taiwan develop links with the world. This would alleviate pressure on Taipei and be beneficial for all of Taiwan.In fact, many countries place their political and economic hubs in different cities, such as Japan, the United States, Russia and Australia. Taiwan should do the same, Yan says, especially as its infrastructure makes travel between north and south convenient.In closing, Yan quotes William Lai: "There is no permanent victory, only permanent hard." Yan will continue to build upon the foundation Lai created in Tainan and implement key policies. Meanwhile, Chen Chi-rui notes that Lai will certainly face great challenges in his new role as premier, but that he has the utmost confidence in Lai's ability to lead Taiwan toward a brighter future.