Ma Ying-jeou in the most crucial hours of Morakot

He wants you to focus on how many were rescued such that you will forget how many lives were lost due to his blunders in the most crucial hours.
~~ Taiwan Echo ~~

The international community always portraits Taiwan's president Ma Ying-jeou as a capable politician who can achieve magics, without acknowledging the fact that every single construction or major policy under Ma's administration during his two terms (8 years) of the Taipei Mayorship ends up a disaster (go google, don't take my word for it).

All those facts of incompetence are hidden from the eyes of western readers by journalists whose reports literally conspire to mislead people by beautifying Ma Ying-jeou with layers of lies.

But now all those are torn apart completely by Ma's unbelievable blunders in response to the torment the Typhoon Morakot (莫拉克颱風) imposed upon innocent Taiwanese people. Finally, western journalists are forced to see with their own eyes how mistaken they were about this Harvard-educated, soft fluent-English-spoken Ma Ying-jeou.

Below are what the real Ma Ying-jeou - not the one painted by the media - did in the beginning of Morakot disaster -- the most crucial time to save lives.

(1) Attending a wedding party when Morakot strikes

Typhoon Morakot reached Hualian, Taiwan, at 11:50pm, August 7th. Taiwan has already suffered damages that day [1.1].

The next day (Aug, 8th), when the flooding got worse in southern Taiwan [1.2], Ma Ying-jeou didn't seem to make any attempt to prepare for any disaster. He started his schedule by attending a wedding party in Taipei in the evening. He spent 1.5 hr in the party, joked around and delivered a speech bragging about how great his China policy is. Only after then did he go to the Cabinet's Drought Disaster Relief Center (DDRC, 中央災害應變中心). What he did in DDRC is unknown, but none about the preparation against natural calamities was reported, let alone any evacuation order.

(2) Interfering rescue by rushing to the front line for the spot-light

When it got even worse the next day (Aug, 9th) [2.1], Ma, without taking any state-level measures, rushed to the front line where people were busy with real rescue efforts.

Receiving the president of a country, presumably the rescue personnel on-site have to stop their work to brief him (or not ?). His visit would crowd the area with his security guards. To ensure his safety, his visit would occupy personnel urgently needed for the rescue, thus reduce the manpower needed for saving lives. In fact, Ma Ying-jeou was stuck in Chiayi (嘉義)by the flooding, which turned himself into one needs to be rescued [2.2]. For that, he might be directly responsible for the death of many people who might otherwise be saved.

More incredible is, Ma Ying-jeou appeared in front of the camera with local KMT candidates wearing their campaign jackets ! What on earth did he want to achieve with that other than showing off in front of the camera ?

When 921 Earthquake happened back in 1999, former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) went to the rescue site quickly, too. However, before Lee went to the site, he and his government already initiated a series of state-level rescue measures in 13 minutes after the quake. A command center was established on the rescue site in a couple of hours. Lee convened a national security meeting the same day [2.3]. He went to the disaster site only after he had set up the government rescue mechanism and got himself fully informed of what's going on.

In contrary, Ma quickly rushed to the disaster scene empty-handed. No emergency meeting convened, no state-level rescue mechanism pre-arranged, no one in the government knows what they need to do. As shown in the website screen shot [2.4] of the Executive Yuan's National Disaster Prevention and Protection Commission (行政院災害防救委員會), when lives were lost and villages were swept away in the south on Aug. 9th, Ma's government still believes that there's no serious calamity and the most updated warning of disaster on that page is for an earthquake on Aug. 3rd !

Try imagining this after the hurricane Katrina: at the time the rescuing attempt started, USA's former president G.W. Bush flight from DC to the sites, putting himself in the center of rescue, shaking hands with people and posing in front of the spot-light to be interviewed by the media -- and all are done without any attempt of national coordination. Imagine that, and ask what would you think about Bush in this imagined scenario.

By showing up in the rescue site without any relief plan, Ma Ying-jeou shows us not only how spot-light-hungry he is, but also that he has no idea what a president's duty is..

As a result, his rushing to the front line achieved nothing other than endangering lives of many. The only thing guaranteed is that the image of him shaking hands with people on the rescue site gets shown on the front pages of news, as though the country will be ok as long as he looks good in the news.

(3) Messing up the rescue plan by giving direct orders

The rising waters at where Ma visited could get people drowned right at the time he was visiting, which won't look good in the news at all. Ignoring all procedures that might be crucial for the best allocation of limited resources, Ma used his cell phone to make a direct call to Taipei and ordered Taipei government to deliver pumps to Chiayi immediately [3.1],[3.2].

Did he know who knows better where the pumps should be delivered, who knows the environment better, what type of pumps should be used in that environment, what other devices and personnel are needed for that mission, where else might be in much more urgent need of pumps, and how long does it take for the pumps from Taipei to be delivered?

Furthermore, as the president, does he know that he is the head of all military forces so he can instruct the army to help the rescue mission -- the army of all specialties (including the marine and special operation forces) that already stationed in Kaohsiung (高雄), Chishan (旗山), Linyuan (林園), Yanchao (燕巢), Gangshan (岡山), Tainan (台南) -- all in very close vicinity of Chiayi? Did he have any scintilla of idea what is available in southern part of Taiwan at all?

All those close military units were left alone when he tried to order pumps far from Taipei with a direct phone call. Does he has to perform in front of the camera as though he was the one doing something, and no one else is doing anything ? It did make it easier for him to play the blaming games to cover his incompetence, didn't it ?

With his poor knowledge about available resources and his poor judgment by giving direct orders without knowledge of the overall situation, Ma messed up the rescue and might have jeopardized lives of more citizens.

(4) Leading the country toward the game of finger-pointing

When Ma and his government didn't do any preventive preparations, didn't warn the victims about how serious it could be, didn't issue any evacuation order to the disaster area, didn't keep track of what damages already being done and what misery people are already suffering, and Ma himself went to a wedding party when people were about to lose their own or family's lives (some lost entire family of 15 or more), Ma Ying-jeou has the audacity to show up in front of the camera to pin the fault on the suffering victims!

What kind of cruelty is hidden behind the facade of the apparant eloquent gestures and a mouthful of fluent English ?

He also blames The Central Weather Bureau (中央氣象局) for not being able to make precise prediction, without the knowledge that the weather prediction is extremely difficult, especially the rain level.

He also blames local governments for no disaster prevention constructions, without acknowledging that the disaster relief budgets were often cut by the Legislative Yuan in which his KMT members always has the majority.

He even blames the weather, saying that the rescue is delayed by the disaster that damaged the roads, forgetting that human can still walk without roads. In fact, there were at least several members of special operations force took a leave from their station, went back to the disaster area to rescue their families. They had to take a leave because no one in Ma Ying-jeou's administration ordered them to do anything when lives of their families were in danger. They were able to rescue people by themselves, but Ma Ying-jeou wants you to believe that it's the weather that makes military rescue impossible.

Even after days of heavy criticism from international media, in an interview by CNN, Ma YJ finally said he will take full responsibility. But he followed immediately with what he means by taking responsibility -- punishing others [4.1]. His definition of taking the responsibility is to blame all wrongs on others but himself, as though that people should have got everything done and ready for him to sit there enjoying the life of an emperor worry-free. Those who didn't make sure that happens should take all the blames.

(5) He doesn't know what to do in a disaster relief meeting

When the 921 earthquake stroke in 1999, former president Lee Tenghui convened the first high-level national security meeting (國安高層會議) to lay out his rescue plan on the first day, and had the second meeting 2 days later.

Why did it take Ma 7 days to convene such a meeting? We will never know, but what he did in the first meeting might shed some light.

Taiwan has accumulated experiences of disaster rescue channel and established pretty good disaster response mechanism during the past decades. But when a disaster of this scale happens, often a system like that is not enough. Foreign aid will flow in, which might involve diplomatic issues beyond a domestic rescue channel can handle. It also involves the deployment of military personnel and resources, which requires an assessment of the balance between rescuing victims and defending the country. The re-distribution of reserved resources is way beyond the authority of a routine rescue system.

This is when a national security meeting should step in. By convening such a meeting, the president should lay the foundation to coordinate all those different resources and channel them to the rescue system. He should monitor and give instructions on how the routine rescue system, the foreign aids, the military reserves, the local and central governments should coordinate. And he should play that role of watching all channels of forces until all problems are solved.

Unfortunately, none of the above was conducted by Ma Ying-jeou in his 7-day-late meeting [5.1]. Nothing on the coordination on the national level that only the president can do is discussed or planned (for example, how to handle foreign aids is completely missing in the meeting). Instead, Ma's speech is full of impractical wishful thinking like "I hope...", "... very important", "we should ...", "we must ...". Other than that, he issues instructions that the head of rescue system can issue, which includes the only significant instruction he gave in the meeting -- mobilizing the students of police academics.

Among all mumbo jumbo, he did remember to start the speech by bragging how many people his government rescued by emphasizing that it's the record high. In fact, he keeps mentioning this in every chance he got, as though he has done a cherity service to the victims so poeple should not have complained. This kind of bragging is surely not you want to hear in a meeting like that.

Now we see why the meeting was delayed --- he has no idea at all what he should do with such a meeting !!! Such a disaster-handling meeting requires him to behave like a commander who makes new problem-solving decisions but not just regurgitating what he memorized. This is something far beyond his ability, and his fear of taking on it shows that he knows it by heart.

Ma Ying-jeou's fear of taking up the responsibility doesn't stop there. After the meeting, he refused to take the command. He handed over all responsibilities to the rescue team. The government claims that what is left will now all count on the routine rescue system, so Ma will retreat behind the first line of rescue and reconstruction, leaving himself completely out of future responsibilities [5.2].

So what is left for Ma Ying-jeou to be responsible for? Full time blame hunter to hunt down those who did nothing because Ma never gave any order?

Ma Ying-jeou has been either a government official or people's elected all his adult life, yet his extremely poor knowledge on the duty of a government's job and his complete lack of sense of responsibility would guarantee that there's a long long way of future suffering for Taiwanese to endure.

The above is a retrospect to part of Ma Ying-jeou's blunders in the most crucial hours of Morakot disaster. His unprecedented incompetence followed by the act of 100% responsibility shirking stun those who thought Ma Ying-jeou was a savior of Taiwan. Even KMT high-level feels something is seriously wrong --- after all, they just handed this incompetent pretty-face camera boy the absolute power by electing him the KMT's chairman.

There are a lot more unbelievable blunders happened and are happening (just google !), so I'll stop here for now. For Ma Ying-jeou, he might be burning his scarce brain cells calculating how to shirk all responsibilities by finger-pointing and by bragging what record he had achieved to make people think that it's a previlige to have him as the president.

For most Taiwanese, however, judging from the fact that Ma failed to get a single collapsed building rebuilt in 7 years (see my post in 2006, Hopeless quake victims under Ma Ying-Jeou's lead), the suffering has just begun.


Taiwan Echo [20/8/09 01:26] said...

I was often hit with sadness during the days of composing this article. All of Ma Ying-jeou's blunders since he started his Taipei Mayorship in 1998 are well documented and readily available on the net. Yet, Taiwanese have to pay with their lives for the international communities to look at how incompetent Ma Ying-jeou is.

"every single construction or major policy under Ma's administration during his two terms (8 years) of the Taipei Mayorship ends up a disaster"

--- how can the entire western world just ... miss that ?

kenypowa [20/8/09 03:02] said...

It's an excellent article. I'm in emergency management and I'm totally shocked at the incompetence of both the central and local governments. There are four phases in emergency management: mitigation (prevention), preparedness, response, and recovery. 90% of emergency management activities are geared toward the first two (mitigation & preparedness). Obviously government of all levels failed in this regard. But anyway, it's hard to believe anyone can perform worse than President Bush did during Hurricane Katrina, and yet President Ma managed to top Bush's incompetence by a landslide.

After Bush realized the seriousness of the disaster, he appointed Lieutenant General Honoré (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russel_L._Honoré), to handled the mismanaged rescue efforts. Honoré did an excellent job at cleaning up the mess in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

It's been almost 2 weeks since the typhoon, and unlike Mr. Bush, Mr. Ma has yet to appoint any COMPETENT individual to oversee the rescue efforts. Which agency is in charge? Who is responsible for the rescue efforts? Does anyone know? I have no idea. Do you?

Anonymous [20/8/09 03:12] said...

Firstly, let me say that is one helluva excellent article you wrote.

Regarding your question of "how can the entire western world just... miss that?", allow me to point out that, you probably should ask first: "HOW COULD TAIWANESE CHOOSE TO MISS THAT BEFORE THE ELECTION?"

Taiwan Echo [20/8/09 05:16] said...

Regarding what I said in the article that KMT high level is stunned by their chairman-to-be Ma's incompetence, it's reported that the KMT made a quick decision to prevent Ma from taking over the KMT chairman by postponing the power transfer for one year (馬將延後接任黨主席). Obviously they don't trust Ma to lead the party any more.

Taiwan Echo [20/8/09 08:14] said...

Previous statement about the one-year postpone for Ma to take the chairman is just a proposal. The decision is to postpone by a month: 救災為先 馬總統延至10/17接國民黨魁

les [21/8/09 00:37] said...

"how can the entire western world just... miss that?"

A lot of us foreigners have seen how utterly incompetent he is since his first days as Taipei mayor. Problem is, we are labeled as green-leaning loonies or DPP stooges by KMT / Ma supporters. The narrative is always simplified as being anti-Ma = pro-DPP, no other possibility. In other words, to criticize Ma is equivalent to supporting DPP, which is again equivalent to supporting 'guilty by media' Chen Shui-bian.

Be thankful the truth is finally out and that the honeymoon with the Western media is over. Mistakes like this are often purposefully ignored / suppressed in the West, as in Taiwan.

Dixteel [21/8/09 02:57] said...

This is a very well written and informative retrospective, Echo. Impressive.

Of course, it is not complete, but given that Ma has done so many things wrong I doubt anyone can put out a complete summary.

alotstuff [4/9/09 15:47] said...

nice blog....