Government must learn to respect the public, and itself

The China Post news staff

It is tempting to describe the officials at the Presidential Office as amateurs, but that would be an insult to amateurs. Outsiders might lack professionalism but they generally more than compensate with their enthusiasm. Insiders without skills are simply incompetent.

On Wednesday the Presidential Office refuted a magazine report that Jiang Yi-huah would replace Sean Chen as premier, calling it hearsay. Around midnight Thursday, the office announced the resignation of Chen and Jiang’s promotion in an unceremonious press release. Hours later, Jiang told reporters that he had been notified by President Ma Ying-jeou of the planned Cabinet reshuffle some two weeks ago. Not only did the Presidential Office blatantly discredit a media report that it knew to be true only to reverse itself a day later, it publicized a change of such national importance as the premier’s resignation in a sneaky midnight announcement. As if that is not bizarre enough, the office cited “(unnamed) senior government officials” as sources in its statement. Last time The China Post checked, the Presidential Office represents the top official in the nation. Citing unnamed senior government officials can mean only one of two things: either some officials were unwilling to speak on the record even on behalf of the Presidential Office, or that the Presidential Office is taking its writing tips from tabloids. As the premier-designate pointed out, the decision was made more than 10 days ago. Policy-wise there is no justification to make the announcement at midnight. If, by making the announcement as late and vague as possible, the Presidential Office was trying to avoid the embarrassment of admitting something it openly denounced only a day later, it failed miserably. The tactless announcement only makes the office look amateur and disrespectful to the outgoing premier and to the people. This is not the first time the Ma administration has announced major policy changes in the middle of the night. The Cabinet, for example, revealed the easing of U.S. beef import restrictions in a midnight press release last March. Such an approach reflects the sheepishness of the government toward the media and the public. Since the beginning of the Ma administration, senior government officials have tried to better communicate with the people. They went to retreats designated as communication skills workshops. The president and most government bodies took to the latest hip channels (social media, mobile apps) to increase public exposure. The government spent a fortune in crowd-pleasing advertisements. Yet in a way that is indeed spectacular, the government still fails to grasp the basic idea of good communication.