Morakot: the serious lack of concern of the Ma-Ying-jeou administration
Taiwan has been hit by typhoon Morakot on 7th and 8th August and the heavy rainfall caused serious flooding and landslide in the South. At the time of the writing, the death toll is reported to be 62 and many are either trapped or unaccounted for. The Ma administration has been criticised for their slow actions, lack of concerns and displacement of responsibilities.
First of all, let’s take a look at a screen shot of the National Disaster Prevention and Protection Commission website on 9th August. It only reported incidents up to 3rd August and said ‘No major disaster’ at the top.
More and more people are asking the central government and the ruling party to reveal officials’ whereabouts since 7th because the government did not appear to be taking any action until the evening of 8th as the Central Weather Bureau had already issued a typhoon warning on 6th. Based on available information, we know the following:
On the evening of 7th August, when the rain started pouring down, Ma Ying-jeou was supposed to go to the central emergency command centre at 20:10. However, he actually went to a wedding first. He arrived after 19:00, stayed for an hour and half and read a poem. Because the bride was from China, Ma and the host went on about the cross-strait relations, equating their marriage to the ‘win-win development’ for both sides and the 4th link after the ‘three links’.
On 9th August, when the situation was serious, both Ma Ying-jeou and Premier Liu Chiao-shiuan blamed the local governments for misjudging the situation, not evacuating fast enough and requesting the wrong equipment. Ma also blamed the Central Weather Bureau for the inaccuracy of their reports. After they realised how frustrated people were at the government’s inefficiency and lack of efforts, Ma and Liu both paid visits to some affected areas. At one place Ma visited, local people were initially kept from approaching Ma who was surrounded by heavy security. A distressed young man and his mother were grabbed from their neck and waist and dragged away. When they were allowed to approach, Ma was ‘visibly irritated and impatient’ towards them. The young man, whose father was reported missing but got no police response at the time, cried ‘we all voted for you but why is it difficult to see you when we need you?’ Ma responded impatiently ‘I didn’t know you wanted to see me… Well, you’ve seen me now, haven’t you?’ He went on to say that he understood how the young man was feeling because his father had also passed away. Ma then announced that local governments should bear full responsibilities for relief effort. Please note that most the affected counties and cities are run by DPP Mayors except Chiayi City, Taitung and Hualian, the latter two of which traditionally support the KMT.
Liu did not do too well on his visits either. The most disappointing was that he announced that he was going to stay in a disaster zone in Pingtung when in reality, he stayed at the Kaohsiung Armed Forces Hero House (a nice and comfortable hotel), situated in Kaohsiung city. He arrived at the hotel before 19:00. The TVBS correspondent emphasised that the hotel room was not expensive, which may or may not be true, but the point was that he did not stay where he said he was going to and his hotel room was definitely more comfortable than a place in an affected area. To make matters worse, both Ma and Liu were found to be accompanied by KMT nominated candidates for the next local election without the current Mayors who are DPP members. They were criticised for putting the election campaigin before the people.
In the mid of the disaster, the Chinese Nationalist Party was still running around for their central committee election on 16th August. Government officials have been found to use public resources and government venues for this party election and a dinner party for this election was still on when the typhoon hit. They only banned all campaign activities on 10th August which some simply ignored. In contrast, the DPP already stopped all campaign activities at least two days before and started taking donations of anything useful for the victims and organising volunteers (several have made personal donations). Please check their blog for information in English. The DPP chairperson, Tsai Ing-wen, recommended steps the government should take. Many DPP legislators, councillors and candidates put everything else on hold, focusing on collecting and distributing donated food and water. Frank Hsieh’s charity also responded immediately. Some of DPP figures, NGOs, volunteers and ordinary citizens reached and rescued many trapped, using their own network and resources.
The internet community has responded faster than the government. Dr. Billy Pan set up a Google Map showing spots that have been affected. He used Plurk as a channel of communication and anyone with updates could post it on his Plurk. He also gave a list of email addresses of people who volunteered to work on this map. XDite, the one who caught Ma Ying-jeou out on his online ‘weekly report’ also set up a support website. Many spent day and night posting and forwarding messages of where people may have been trapped or what is needed and over 100 young volunteers turned up at Taipei City Councillor, Chien Yuyen’s office, to help pack and move donated food and essentials.
On 11th August, China Times launched another paper, mainly reporting on China. Their slogan is ‘[putting] Taiwan in priority and cross-strait relations first’. They are collaborating with major news agencies in China and sina.com. Several senior government and KMT figures attended the press conference, including the KMT chairperson, Wu Po-hsiung, honorary chairperson, Lien Chan, head of Control Yuan, Wang Chien-hsiuan, Presidential Office Secretary General, Chan Chun-po, Mainland Affairs Councillor, Lai Hsin-yuan and Strait Exchange Foundation president, PK Chiang. The atmosphere was reported to be great.
Until now, Ma still has not declared a state of emergency which would ensure more efficient coordination of all the efforts and resources. After the most serious flooding Taiwan has seen over half of a century, the government has only mobilised 8,235 soldiers and military personnel for relief effort while the size of Taiwan’s military is about 200,000 active and 1.5 million in the reserve. Let’s not forget that right after the 921 earthquake 10 years ago, 15,000 troops were mobilised for the rescue and relief effort and Pasuya Yao said on his radio programme today that 6,000 had been sent to build the stage for Deaflympics in Taipei. This information was disclosed by Taipei City Councillor, Chuang Jui-hsiung. Ma did not accept offers to help from the US and Japan either. Is he saving the spot for China and waiting for China to step in? The more serious question is: what is Ma putting first?
Acknowledgement: many thanks to Jay, who provided a lot of valuable information and the screen shot of the webpage which is no longer available.