Fears over new Taiwanese minister's lack of economic experience

Economics chief is a transport specialist who lacks relevant skills that President Ma Ying-jeou needs to revive the island’s fortunes, critics say

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 February, 2013, 4:59am

Taiwanese premier-designate Jiang Yi-huah plans to name an economics expert and a former deputy transport minister as key members of his cabinet to help rejuvenate the island's sagging economy.

They will be closely watched following the formation of the new cabinet line-up on February 18. The cabinet of outgoing Premier Sean Chen will resign en masse on Thursday.

But the new economics minister's lack of experience in the area has led to concerns from the public and opposition lawmakers that he might not be the right person for the job.

Dr Chang Chia-juch, the chairman of China Airlines, will replace Shih Yen-shiang as economics minister, while Dr Kuan Chung-ming, an economist and business management expert, will succeed Yiin Chii-ming as the head of the Council for Economic Planning and Development.

What is more important is to pick a person who is capable of having a macro-economic mindset, can look far ahead and has the ability to plan effectively

Chang, 63, who has a doctorate in transportation engineering from Purdue University in the United States, was deputy transport minister in 1995 before becoming the island's aviation director. He later became the head of the state-run Chunghwa Post, and was subsequently appointed the head of China Steel (based in the southern city of Kaohsiung) and China Airlines.

Kuan, 57, who has a PhD in economics from the University of California, San Diego, was a prominent academic economist before becoming minister without portfolio  – in charge of promoting investment - in Chen's cabinet.

"What is more important is to pick a person who is capable of having a macro-economic mindset, can look far ahead and has the ability to plan effectively," Jiang said on Monday.

Concerns have been raised about Jiang and his vice-premier-designate, Mao Chih-kuo, lacking experience in economic management. Chang's similar lack of experience is being seen as a negative for President Ma Ying-jeou's hopes of reviving Taiwan's economy.

Persistent domestic economic woes in the past few years have triggered widespread dissatisfaction with the Ma government, with Ma's approval rating nosediving to a humiliating 13 per cent.

Jiang - a US-educated political scientist before becoming the cabinet's research director, interior minister and vice-premier - was picked by Ma to head the cabinet after Chen decided to resign for "health reasons". Mao, a transport minister, was tapped to become vice-premier.

Jiang said he needed an economics minister who could think and plan well ahead, and who could communicate smoothly with others and defend the government's policies, "not someone who has plenty of professional training or experience in certain fields".

Chang is known for his ability to make companies profitable.

Kuan was recently praised for his efforts to encourage Taiwanese businesses based on the mainland to invest on the island.

The incoming cabinet will face major issues including the reopening of long-stalled trade talks with the US, a major trading partner, the controversy over whether to operate a fourth nuclear power plant (with construction soon to be completed), and continuing talks with the mainland regarding the cross-strait Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement signed in 2010.