Chen fires up, plans sweeping changes in structure of Cabinet

The China Post staff and agencies

Evidently fed up with his unpopular Cabinet, President Chen Shui-bian yesterday chided the executive branch for lack of efficiency, and vowed to cut its size by one-third in three years.

The island’s top personnel administrator, in a surprisingly efficient fashion, announced in the afternoon that government workforce will be cut by 15,000 next year. The president did not seek to veil his anger at the Cabinet when speaking to senior government workers at an orientation.

“Is organizing an event like this so difficult that it should take such a long time for everybody to get together, sharing experience, discuss policies?” Chen, in a harsh tone asked his Cabinet members attending the orientation.

“I really don’t quite understand why we have to wait for a year for us meet here. Can anybody give me an answer?” Chen went on. It was the second time the president had publicly lost temper at his Cabinet.

“This is a belated gathering, and I am telling you this won’t be the last one,” he said.

Chiou I-jen, Cabinet secretary general who was the main planner of the event, said former Premier Tang Fei had started planning the event, which has been postponed until yesterday because of personnel reshuffle under Premier Chang Chun-hsiung. Chen’s 40-minute speech gave off the impression that the president is getting increasingly intolerant with the Cabinet, the popularity of which has kept declining over the past year.

The first non-Kuomintang president of Taiwan also laid out a plan to restructure the Cabinet by cutting down its size by one-third in three years.

Chen said he wanted to see results of the restructuring three years later — during the next president election.

Chu Wu-hsien, director-general of the Central Personnel Administration (CPA), said the government has slashed 3.73 percent of its workforce since 1996.

In the current fiscal year, he went on, the government has already rid itself of several thousand employees.

For 2002, government workforce will be cut by 15,000 through privatization or downsizing of the currently state-owned companies.

Chen also cautioned that Taiwan is in the midst of a “development syndrome,” stemming from slowing economy and rising unemployment, that could lead to social disorder and a confidence crisis. But efforts to restructure industries have been hampered as China has been attracting Taiwan investment like a “magnet” with its mass market and low wages, Chen said. Taiwan also faces the unprecedented challenges of establishing new relationships with some 140 countries when it joins the World Trade Organization, a move expected late this year or early next year, he said. All these tasks require the government to come up with proper strategies and implement them quickly, Chen said as he presided over an orientation for top government officials. “We are facing many major challenges which weigh upon us like mountains,” Chen said. “We need to improve our problem-solving ability,” he said. “The public will no longer tolerate the government’s lack of direction.” Chen promised a clean and efficient government during the presidential campaign last year, but his new minority government has been widely criticized for its inexperience and lack of coordination among its many branches. The opposition-controlled legislature has refused to work with the government, and the protracted political feud has rattled financial markets.