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Morakot: the inefficiency of Ma Ying-jeou’s administration

15/08/2009

It has been seven days since Typhoon Morakot hit Taiwan. The death toll is likely to be over 500 and we may not know the real figure. The government has been heavily criticised. Jay sent me an article that gives details and insight into the Ma administration, compared to former President Lee Teng-hui’s administration. I am not translating all the information but some key issues.

The Ma administration knew the damage but they only held a national security meeting 7 days afterwards and left the local administrations to contact the various military units on their own. The Premier said he considered this fast because after the 921 earthquake in 1999 (he was Deputy Premier at the time), he did not start working on the rescue and relief until 28 September. This was untrue.

The earthquake happened at 1:47am on 21 September 1999. Former President Lee immediately sent Deputy Councillor of National Security Council (NSC), Hu Wei-chen, to the area to assess the scale of the disaster. He also deployed troops at 2:30am. As Hu found the damage to be too severe for the local administrations to handle, NSC immediately called an emergency meeting between the NSC Councillor, Head of National Security Bureau, Ministry of National Defence (MND) Chief of Staff, the Premier and relevant ministers. President Lee went to the affected areas the following morning (22 Sept). On the same day, a steering group to oversee the rescue and relief efforts was set up in Nantou, headed by the then vice president, Lien Chan. On 26 September, President Lee called a high level government meeting during which they decided to set up a commission for the reconstruction of the affected areas. On the 27th, the commission was formally set up by the Executive Yuan, with the then premier, Vincent Siew, as the commissioner and Liu as deputy and chief executive.

When President Lee inspected the affected areas, he was usually briefed by the military and always accompanied by the MND Chief of Staff, Tang Yao-ming while Ma Ying-jeou has only been accompanied by either KMT candidates for the next local election or Deputy Secretary General of the Presidential Office. As soon as a problem was identified, President Lee would send his order as the Commander in Chief. To ensure swift and effective actions, MND Chief of Staff, Tang, ordered all the troops to get where they were deployed on time or the operation would be deemed as failed.

However, it seems that none of the ministers in the Ma administration know their jobs and what they are supposed to do. An article in the Next Magazine gives some detailed information on what might have happened.

Ministry of National Defence

As the ‘president’ did not declare a state of emergency and order the military to take over the coordination of the rescue effort, Minister of National Defence, Chen Chao-min and Chief of Staff, Lin Chen-yi, considered coordinating rescue and relief efforts the responsibilities of Ministry of the Interior, which will be talked about later.

After the MND responded to the situation and deployed more troops, the Minister, Chen, seemed to be more preoccupied with his rank. On 12 August, Chen went to inspect a place where about 40 soldiers were working on a temporary bridge. When he arrived, all the soldiers had to put everything down and stand at attention. He let those young men stay in that position for 40 minutes while he was being briefed by the staff, interviewed by the press and photographed with the troops, 40 minutes of valuable time in a rescue mission.

As there was literally no central command, the local authority of Lin-bian at Pingtung had to directly request support from the army at 8:20am on 8 August. An army base sent five armoured fighting vehicles over but when they arrived at 9:30am, the ground floor was already all under water and the troops couldn’t get in. They then reported back to their base and asked for 10 rubber boats, the nearest of which were however more than 50 kms away in Tainan.

As the army did not anticipate how widespread the floods were and it might be beyond their capability, it didn’t occur to them to contact the navy base nearby in the first instant. According to the official record, the nearest navy base was contacted around 9:30am and arrived by 10:30am but the vehicles they sent were already useless at that point.

Just before 11am, the army commander arrived at Lin-bian himself, saw how wide the area was under water and realised that the 10 rubber boats which were still on the way were far from enough. It then dawned on him to talk to the navy again about getting the amphibious force involved for their skills and equipment. So the navy base got a request for three rubber boats and the amphibious force at 11:15 but they could not simply send whoever or whatever was requested without an order or clearance unless the disaster was near their base. Therefore, people in Lin-bian could only wait for the 10 rubber boats requested earlier to arrive and the amphibious force to be cleared to go. The 10 rubber boats and the troops from Tainan finally arrived at 12:20pm and between 11am and 12:20pm, almost nothing was done on the rescue.

The amphibious troops arrived soon after 12:20pm but the flooded area was too big and the residents were too scattered. So the first rescue mission was not very effective. After hours of waiting for rescue that never came, the residents started contacting the media and people outside for help. It was only until the media kept showing images of the damage that MND realised how serious it was and decided to send in more amphibious troops and the latest equipment.

Minister of the Interior

Liao, Liao-yi, was reported to ‘disappear’ during meetings about the typhoon on 7 and 9 August but Liao denied this and told the reporter that he only went on leave for 2 hours on the 8th during which he asked Public Works Commissioner to care take.

Even though the law stipulates that Ministry of the Interior bears the responsibility to oversee work during disasters but the actual tasks and associated responsibilities fall under different ministries: Ministry of the Interior for typhoons, Ministry of Transportation and Communication for traffic related incidents, Ministry of Economic Affairs for floods, Council of Agriculture for mudslides… when all those happen at the same time and the country’s leader doesn’t step up, no one seems to know what to do except passing the buck.

Council of Agriculture & Ma Ying-joeu

While talking to CNN, Ma Ying-jeou openly attributed the responsibilities to the victims not evacuating. In fact, the worst hit village, Hsiao-lin already had some mudslides last year. If the Council of Agriculture enforced evacuation, many lives could have been saved. The former Councillor of Agriculture, Su Chia-chuan, under the DPP government, had demonstrated how he would evacuate when there was a red alert. He would personally follow up on the progress of evacuation. However, this time, the Council did not do more than issuing warnings.

Minister of Justice & Councillor of Labour Affairs

Ministry of Justice may not be directly relevant but has to deal with the possible increase of crimes and the unreasonable increase of prices for necessities. Council of Labour Affairs need to look into employment needs after the disaster. However, these two ministers (Wang, Ching-feng and Wang Ju-shiuan) saw fit to go to the south to distribute food in one of the affected areas. Someone yelled at Wang Ching-feng, saying it was all just a show and they were not needed there. Embarrassed, Wang answered back ‘At least you can vent your frustration [to me]’. (It may also be interpreted as ‘At least I can make you angry.’)

When Ma blamed the Central Weather Bureau, he forgot that people needed to be rescued regardless of the accuracy of the CWB prediction. He then blamed the victims for not evacuating without looking at his administration’s responsibilities. To date, they still haven’t revealed their whereabouts on the 7th and 8th and some were said to ‘disappear’ for considerable periods of time.

When we read the following story, we might know why Ma would forget so many important things. Two girls (aged 2 years, 5 months) were buried under the mud for 2 and 5 minutes respectively. They suffocated but were revived. They would have died if their grandfather hadn’t searched and got them out of the mud with his own bear hands. When Ma visited them, he picked up the 2 year old and said to her ‘You are so good cos you can hold your breath for two minutes!

The DPP, on the other hand, are doing everything they can with 2/3 of their employees helping in the affected areas, in addition to the current legislators and councillors and candidates working on rescue and relief. No one is posing for the camera nor did the party as a whole attack the government. At the moment, most of the criticisms come from the people.

Some wonder whether the government’s lack of concerns about human lives will cost them dearly in the next election, considering how unpopular Lien Chan got because of the way he behaved after the 921 earthquake. I’m not too optimistic at the moment because ten years ago, 1) the media were not protecting Lien as they are protecting Ma now, 2) China’s influence had not penetrated Taiwan as it is now and President Lee did not kowtow to China like Ma is, 3) the DPP was healthier than it is now. I do hope people will see Ma and his party for what they are and make a different choice next time but at this moment, one can only hope.

Morakot: the serious lack of concern of the Ma-Ying-jeou administration

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