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September 21, 2017

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Country's officials could use hefty dose of common sense

Running a country is a complicated business that is sometimes best done with a simple dose of common sense.

Legislator Lee Ying-yuan pointed out last week that well-financed schools in urban areas are selling unused classroom desks on the cheap online while some students in rural schools are making do with old desks and chairs they can barely fit in.

A New Taipei City junior high school put 240 desk sets up for sale on a Taipei City Government-run auction website for an asking price of NT$20 each. On the other hand, over 10,000 classroom desks and chairs are shaky or unusable in the 127 elementary and junior high schools in Yunlin County alone, Lee pointed out.

According to Lee, the Taipei government's education department considered giving the extra desks to schools in other counties but decided that the transportation expenses would be too high to justify the donation.

Such a decision makes perfect sense from a government official's point of view. It might be difficult for government departments in both the giving and the receiving regions to come up with funds to move the desk sets, but this remains a good example of how a bureaucratic mindset often trumps common sense. The much-needed desk sets go for fire sale prices simply because no one tries to make the desk donation work.

It is hard to imagine a more appealing fundraising campaign than one that aims to help schoolchildren. Taiwan's famously generous public and charity organizations will no doubt strongly support the donation by helping pay the transportation costs. While such a campaign is perhaps beyond a city government official's job description, it is only common sense for anyone who cares about children and education.

This governance style so devoid of common sense is further highlighted by the fact that schools in urban areas in Yunlin — the same county with over 10,000 unusable desks — are e-auctioning their desk sets. The government has been spending millions on numerous education reforms but in the meantime it is forgetting the basics, such as the importance of a good desk.

A dose of common sense recently brought positive changes to the popular tourist destination of Alishan. The mountain is popular among Taiwanese and mainland tourists in no small part thanks to a famous song that praises the beauty of local aboriginal girls and the strength of local boys. For a long time, however, tourists have been mostly greeted by elderly Alishan performers, as younger locals leave home to find work.

Now some of these performance venues are employing younger performers. The decision not only brings joy to tourists who are now able to witness the famed "Alishan girls beautiful like water and Alishan boys strong like mountains" but it also improves the living standards of locals, who can now stay near family. In the long term it can even help preserve the traditions of the tribe, which in turn helps maintain the destination's quality as a tourist magnet.

There is nothing complicated about bringing girls and boys back to a place sung about for its girls and boys. It is common sense and leads to a virtuous circle to local development.

When the president and his Cabinet break into a sweat over their famously "too complicated to explain in a few sentences" Economic Power-up Plan, they should mull the importance of common sense from lessons such as the failure of desk donations and the success of the Alishan hiring.

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