Sep 14, 2016

    Taipei too ready to use money to handle protests

    PROTESTING has long been a means of expressing political discontent in Taiwan but the Tsai Ing-wen administration's first and often only reaction has been to offer money to protesters.

    More than 900 highway toll- booth operators, who lost their jobs after the introduction of electronic fare-collection systems, won compensation last month when the government reached an agreement with their union.

    The union had hailed the deal by saying that "this protest confirms that success comes to those who fight to the very end".

    But taxpayers had to shoulder the financial consequences of the failure of the Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection company to find jobs for the displaced workers as promised.

    Another incident proves how the new government gives in to populism and too readily settles disputes with money.

    In May, the Cabinet cancelled an unofficial decade-long policy to provide toll-free access to highways during late-night and early-morning hours over four-day weekends.

    Premier Lin Chuan cited reports showing that night-time highway tolls dissuade drivers from using the roads and thus prevent accidents.

    Yet, two weeks prior to the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Cabinet reversed its decision, amid a wave of public criticism.

    While the government should listen to the people's voices, it should also have the resolve to stand firmly by what it believes.

    If the government easily caves in to populist outcries, then there is, perhaps, little to expect from Ms Tsai's administration.

    On Monday, thousands of people shared their concerns about the tourism industry as they marched down the Ketagalan Boulevard.

    Her Cabinet again tried to placate the protesters with money.

    A budget of NT$30 billion (S$1.3 billion) will be used to promote domestic travel, create more incentives for foreign tourists and provide financial support for businesses in sectors that are suffering the greatest due to the drop in mainland Chinese tourists.

    Ms Tsai pledged to create "a government that knows best how to communicate".

    "When the government can't hear you, speak up," she said.

    "When the government can't hear you the second time, speak louder. And if the government still fails to listen, slam the table," she added.

    However, when all parties and interest groups slam the table at once, her administration must toughen up to defend what is right and solve socioeconomic issues from the roots.