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Sunday, August 12, 2007

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Picking over the bones of the past

Both sides are crawling over past statements that Ma Ying-jeou has made on the special funds, and the DPP has come up with a doozy. Over at That's Impossible! A-gu has posted on the upcoming propaganda wave ahead of the verdict expected Tuesday in the Ma Ying-jeou corruption case:

Taipei City councilor Yen Sheng-kuan (顏聖冠) and DPP Legislator Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) a press conference today showing old footage from city hall where Ma clearly agrees the special allowance fund is only for public expenditures, that he's never used it for private purposes. and that he'd quit politics if he was ever found to have done so. Of course, Ma's current legal argument is that he thought the money was a subsidy he could use for private expenses. This is damning footage that will very likely be made into a DPP ad if Ma is judged guilty and still wants to run.

(Youtube video link)

Ma's lawyers expressed optimism for the coming verdict because, "it's clear Ma had no intention of breaking the law" when depositing the NT$11 million (US$333,000) into his personal bank account. Yeah.

Ma made the remarks in September of 2006, nearly a year ago. Seems like another age, back when Ma invited prosecutors to look into his accounts. The DPP also raised issues about his use of funds won in elections at that time as well. DPP lawmakers reminded Ma of his promises.....:

"Ma knew very well that the mayoral special allowance is a public fund and should be used only for work-related purposes," Hsu said. "But some media organizations, Ma's campaign team and his lawyers are defending Ma as `not having intended to embezzle' because he didn't know" the rules.

Hsu backed up his accusations with a video recording of a conversation between Ma and Yen during a Taipei City Council question-and-answer session when Ma was still mayor of Taipei.

In the video, Ma said "we do not use the special allowance for private expenditure," when asked by Yen if this was allowed.

When Yen asked if the special allowance fund could only be used for public purposes, Ma said "yes."

Ma states in the video that "the special allowance fund is clearly separate from my personal expenditure ... I never used the special allowance for private purposes, don't worry," and "my special allowance fund has only been used for official affairs or public welfare."

When Yen asked what Ma would do if he used the special allowance for private purposes, Ma answered: "I'll take whatever penalty if you can prove it."

"If we find out one day that you used the special allowance fund for private purposes, would you retire from politics?" Yen asked at the end of the video.

"Yes," Ma replied.

"Ma is lying to everyone," Yen told the press conference. "He should be ashamed of himself and retire from politics as promised."

Meanwhile Ma too was looking back into the past, but in a very different and more revealing way. Ma Ying-jeou finished his "long stay" in southern and central Taiwan at the end of last month. The very phrase is suggestive of how Ma views Taiwan outside of Taipei -- as a kind of hostile territory where his residence is a temporary foray necessitated by the exigencies of electoral politics, rather than a visit to a place in his own country.

In a piece I wrote a while back when Ma selected Vincent Siew as his running mate, Feiren and I both noted how Ma's economic thinking is oriented toward the glorious past, and how Siew's background is basically that of a developmentalist state technocrat. Neither seems to have a vision of the future that involves fundamental and progressive change. Or something more than large infrastructure projects.

On the new KMT news site there is a link to Ma's plan for 10 Well Being Projects for Central Taiwan (a bit of blog history: this is my first link to the new KMT English news site. Go KNN!). The news site is pretty much worthless as a news site, though that may well change, but it promises much value as a source of KMT thinking. Here are Ma's plans for 10 Well Being projects, policies aimed at getting votes in central Taiwan, a hotly contest though marginally KMT area. As you read them, keep in mind that they are "Well Being" projects:

1. Push forward with the merger of Taichung City and Taichung County.

2. Designate Taichung Ching Chuan Kang Airport as a hub for direct cross-Strait flights to expand air links between major cities in Northeast and Southeast Asia.

3. Complete the Green Line of Taichung’s Mass Rapid Transit System while planning a “Yellow” line between Feng-yuan and Ching-Shui Wu-Chih and an “Orange” line between Ching Chuan Kang Airport and the THSR (Taiwan High Speed Rail) Wurih Station to promote all-round development of local areas.

4. Rebuild Taichung and Changhua railway stations to promote the economic revival of the surrounding areas.

5. Speed up the completion of Taichung No. 2 and No. 4 roads; implement the extension of the No. 4 Expressway to Tungshih and the Wu-feng section of the No. 6 Expressway to improve local traffic; and build a cloverleaf interchange system for the existing expressways in the area

6. Add an interchange to the No. 3 Expressway linking Nantou city and Chushan in order to solve traffic congestion and promote local development.

7. Immediately repair the pavements along the Central Cross-Island Highway between Ku Kuan and Tehchi Reservoir for the convenience of local people and conveyance of agricultural products.

8. Set up a central branch of the Industrial Technology Research Institute.

9. Build a fishing port at Changhua

10. Formulate a new satellite park of the Central Taiwan Science Park to be located in Changhua.

Note first of all that each of the projects is an infrastructure project. There are no park, recreation, conservation, environmental, educational, cultural, health, or alternative energy projects -- projects many might think of when the words "well-being" are used. It's 2007, and Ma Ying-jeou is still touting the doken kokka, the construction state, of the 1970s and '80s, as the answer to Taiwan's growth questions. In Japan, as the sun set on manufacturing and the Bubble economy went ka-pow! in the early 1990s, the construction state became even more important. Here too, in Taiwan, where the local political economy is fueled by flows of cement and manufacturing is offshoring to China, it seems the KMT would have us following Japan downhill. There is nothing in any of this that says: here lies the future.

The very name "Ten ____ Projects," of course, recalls the Ten Great Construction Projects of the early 1970s, including the freeway and the Taoyuan airport. It is hard to overestimate how inflated a view the KMT still has of those projects. In 1989 I visited the National Palace Museum. At that time it had three walls covered with displays of images of the great achievements of human history -- the Great Wall, the Sistine Chapel, the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon, Stonehenge -- at the end of this list that covered three walls full of human history, right up there next to the Parthenon and the Taj Mahal, were the Ten Great Construction Projects. Yup. The KMT thought that the Sun Yat-sen Freeway deserved a place next to the Kailasa Temple at Ellora or the Inca ruins at Cuzco. The DPP has also harked back to those massive, highly successful, desperately needed infrastructure projects with its Ten New Major Construction Projects -- but while the infrastructure is there, the DPP also envisions things like upgraded universities and expanded fiber-optic systems. Observe too that on Ma's list no project seems aimed at any particular local industry or resource -- one could change the names and these projects would happily fly in Pingtung, Tainan, or Miaoli. They are just generic infrastructure projects, just more formulaic applications of concrete to the countryside.

But it is the KMT we're talking about, so we get it coming and going. Not only are these projects not very forward looking, they are not new either. For example, upgrading Taichung to the status of a municipality has been talked about for years. The central government has been extremely reluctant to create another power center on the island by elevating the city, however. Making the airport here an international airport has long been a dream of local activists like Douglas Haebecker, the former Taichung correspondent for the old China News, who has been pushing for the issue since the Ming Dynasty, I think. Several of the projects are already ongoing, while only a lack of money has prevented implementation of others, such as repairs to the cross-island road system. It's important that good, needed, ideas get a push, but at the same time, the future has to be envisioned through creativity and imagination as well. Nothing like that is evinced here.

I especially like the fishing port idea for Changhua -- ports are highly prized pork projects used to buy local loyalties -- similar programs of infrastructure development in the Penghu have given those islands more fishing ports than the main island of Taiwan! A fishing port? How about a ferry port? A water park? A marine ecological zone? A wind farm? In a political economy where local construction and land development fund local political factions that offer support to those who hand out large sums of cash, Ma Ying-jeou is simply making a bald statement to the local factions: follow me and I will keep the money flowing down to you. What that says about Ma's views of corruption is obvious.

To a mind oriented on the future, many things suggest themselves. To a mind like Ma's that is borne unceasingly back to the past, the only solution is what worked before. Whatever you may say about the many slips twixt the DPP cup and lip, the party's localization programs, alternative energy, open government, and other policies, all convey the idea that it is the party of the future. What Siew shows about Ma, and what Ma's idea of economic development show, is the mind of a man whose solutions for 21st century problems are three decades out of date.

crossposted from The View from Taiwan

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