First it was a “typographical error” in the missive transmitted to Taiwanese representative offices abroad, which conveyed the instruction that all offices were to turn down offers of foreign assistance in the wake of Typhoon Morakot. That “error,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) officials later claimed, mislead officials into thinking that the refusal of aid was permanent, rather than “temporary.” While a well-placed source affirms that the decision came from someone above Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrew Hsia (夏立言), who was acting in the absence of Foreign Minister Francisco Ou (歐鴻鍊), the rationale for that decision, or what would make a “temporary” ban any better, has yet to be communicated publicly.
Then it was President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) saying that he’d never meant to criticize victims of the disaster for not evacuating affected areas quickly enough.
As if the above were not clear enough signs of a bungled reaction to the disaster, the Presidential Office, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of National Defense, MOFA, the fire department, local governments and the premier have all engaged in buck-passing (usually top-down), giving the impression that nobody’s in charge. Compounding that perception was a press conference on Sunday, where the Central Emergency Operation Center commander, Mao Chih-kuo (毛治國), was unable to provide answers to questions by foreign reporters on such matters as the body count in Xiaolin Village or the type of assistance expected from the US and Japan.
The last straw (or is it?)
Then on Monday, the Government Information Office sent a message to the Taiwan Foreign Correspondents’ Club (TFCC) with the instruction that all foreign correspondents who had signed up for a press conference by Ma with international media scheduled for Tuesday should provide their questions beforehand. Fearing that complying with this directive would undermine the credibility of foreign reporters as well as their ability to do their job and speak truth to power, the TFCC replied with a statement in which it made clear its unwillingness to comply. Soon afterwards, the GIO responded by saying that it had been “misunderstood” and that the directive was not mandatory.
Are we now to believe that the GIO, whose main purpose is to communicate information, is unable to make itself understood? More likely, the GIO meant what the directive said, tested the water, and when it saw trouble brewing on the horizon, it retracted it, relying on the by-now exhausted “we were misunderstood” excuse of the Ma administration.
Either no one’s in control, or officials are being caught in their own web of lies. Either way, it makes the administration look staggeringly incompetent.