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Mr. President, it is time that you and the people had a serious talk

The China Post--The Republic of China is celebrating its National Day next week under a gloomy atmosphere. Annual economic growth dropped from 4.03 percent last year to the government-estimated 1.66 percent this year. The public is now talking more about a lost decade of stagnant income, high cost of living and exodus of local talent than the golden decade envisioned by President Ma Ying-jeou from his Double Tenth address last year.

The president has promised to make his economic policies more tangible. The public, meanwhile, is probably feeling more the frustration of his former labor minister who resigned after her minimum wage hike plan got banned and the wisdom of his Cabinet spokesman who compared himself to Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮), the most celebrated strategist in Chinese history, to justify his online gaffe.

Even the president's supporters are using increasingly tough words on him. Days after World Taiwanese Chambers of Commerce President and national policy advisor Jonathan Huang (黃正勝) criticized Ma's policies to his face, former Vice President Vincent Siew yesterday said that he has never seen the nation so powerless and lost in the five decades he has witnessed Taiwan's economic development.

The president has been brushing aside criticisms with government spreadsheet numbers, more promises of tangible policies and his brand of humor. “He is my policy advisor, I got to listen to him,” the president managed to joke in response to Huang's comment. He cited statistics to show that Taiwan will see a better final quarter in 2012. That might be true but a strong fall quarter is all but expected and is unlikely to lift annual growth over 2 percent.

Granted, Taiwan's current economic challenges are in no small part the result of a global economic slowdown (especially the recession in Europe). The sensation-loving media also is giving free rein on doomsaying reports that have blown Taiwan's situation out of proportion. The president has no direct control over these factors but he is not absolved of blame. He squandered the best window of opportunity to prepare the economy for the eurozone crisis in spring. Instead of introducing economic stimulus, he spent the first half of 2012 pushing forward his morally noble but grossly ill-timed power price hike and capital gain tax plans. The government's tendency to flip-flop and its failure to articulate policies clearly created a void filled by the media's fear mongering and the public's legitimate fear.

Mr. President, as the nation marks its anniversary, it's time for you to acknowledge the public's worries, to own up to your errors and to treat your people as adults before you ask them to endure more hardships. It's time for you to ditch the politicians' timeless fear of apologies. Saying sorry unprompted is not a sign of weakness but an act of leadership. You apologize for what went wrong so people will trust you when you keep on doing what is right.

A genuine response to the people's worries allows you to end the toxic divide between the government and the public. It allows you to move on. Mr. President, the public does not need something as shortsighted as “tangible policy impacts.” They need to know clearly what you mean by a golden decade and how you are going to get them there. Mr. President, it's time for you to show them.

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