Worst three political ideas in 2012 and hopefully of all time
The China Post news staffIt is not an enviable task, picking the top three bad ideas from our government in a year when they have given us so many to choose from. But The China Post would like to bid the year farewell by remembering the worst while hoping for the best for 2013.
January 1, 2013, 12:59 am TWN
While risking being unoriginal and repetitive, we give the top spot to the undisputed king of shoot-yourself-in-the-foot ideas. The decisions to hike power prices by as much as a third and oil prices by some NT$3 in one go around early 2012 are bad in almost every conceivable aspect.
Politically they transformed the triumphantly re-elected President Ma Ying-jeou into a lame duck in a truly spectacular speed and manner. The remarkable fact about the price hike fiasco is that it was completely unforced but came into being solely due to the government's dishonesty and miscalculation. Ma had not floated his idea of power price hikes in the debate of Taiwan's energy security during his 2012 re-election campaign and the government actually froze oil prices in the month before the election (under the pretext of stabilizing prices during the pre-Chinese New Year period). The sudden price hikes that came soon after the election felt like a punch to the face of voters, making them feel betrayed and fooled.
The voters' feelings and Ma's approval ratings (now in the midteens), however, are minor causalities in comparison to the damage the hike announcements brought to price stability. The hikes, rightly or wrongly, became the pretext for price increases for a wide range of goods from night market snacks to convenience store beverages. Since these price increases are often irreversible (when was the last time you saw a restaurant cut prices permanently?), even though oil prices dropped for over 10 consecutive weeks soon after the NT$3 jump, it did no help to bring down prices.
The energy price hikes were also amazingly horrible ideas because they are in principle the right thing to do. Power price increases are in the long run necessary if Taiwan is serious about energy sustainability and a nuclear-free future. But instead of making that case, the government spent most of the time using the rationale of saving unpopular state-owned companies that dole out hefty year-end bonuses.
The hikes should be made during boom times, not before a widely foreseen eurozone debt crisis. They should be preceded by lengthy public consultation and then carried out through multiple stages, not in one across-the-board surge. The president was forced to reset the power price increases in three stages only in the face of public anger. It is one thing to risk angering the people for doing the right thing but quite another to ruin a right policy by handling it badly and carelessly.