ANALYSIS: Analysts question MOFA’s typhoon relief effort role*




                                                                                                                                                           By Jenny W. Hsu
                                                                                                                                                          STAFF REPORTER
                                                                                                                             Wednesday, Aug 26, 2009, Page 3


SCAPEGOAT?: One analyst said it was unlikely that the deputy foreign minister would have the right or the audacity to reject Washington’s aid after the typhoon.

From a missing foreign minister to a cable instructing overseas representative offices to turn down all forms of foreign aid except for cash, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has become a target of public anger over the government’s poor performance in the nationwide flood relief effort following Typhoon Morakot.

While many criticized the ministry for its slow response, some suspect MOFA, more specifically deputy minister Andrew Hsia (夏立言), was the unfortunate scapegoat covering for the mistakes of the upper level of government.

Days after Typhoon Morakot wreaked havoc in southern Taiwan beginning on Aug. 7, it was rumored that MOFA had rejected all foreign assistance, even though Washington had made an offer on Aug. 10.

MOFA immediately rebutted the rumor and said Taiwan was capable of coping with the disaster and if the countries wanted to help, they could donate money.

MOFA’s attitude drew the ire of the public, condemning the ministry of being money-­hungry and apathetic.

The day after the public denial, the Chinese-language Apple Daily published a leaked cable, issued by MOFA, that instructed all overseas representative offices and embassies to decline all types of foreign aid except for cash.

The document, dated Aug. 11, was leaked by a disgruntled MOFA official.

After MOFA was caught in the contradiction, Hsia apologized for the cable, chalked it up as a “careless error” and said the document should have read Taiwan’s rejection to foreign help was only “temporary.”

Putting his head on the chopping block, Hsia said that although he had no prior knowledge of the cable, he would shoulder the blame because the blunder occurred under his watch while Minister of Foreign Affairs Francisco Ou (
歐鴻鍊) was abroad.

Hsia, however, adamantly refused to disclose Ou’s whereabouts or why he was away. Until now, the ministry has not offered any description of Ou’s activities during the typhoon except to say he was attending regional working meetings in Europe and East Asia.

Hsia also insisted that President Ma Ying-jeou (
馬英九) and Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) were not involved in the document — a notion scoffed at by many familiar with the inner workings of MOFA, such as former Presidential Office ­secretary-general Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁).

Chen said a decision of such gravity, especially dealing with diplomacy, could only be approved by someone at the top of the political pyramid.

Hsia’s apparent loyalty, however, failed to secure the respect of the public. In fact, many compared him to Taipei City worker Yu Wen (
余文), who served nine months in jail for failing to keep Ma’s accounts in order when he served as Ma’s assistant.

In 2006, Ma was indicted of misusing his special allowance during his stint as Taipei City mayor from 1998 to 2006. Yu’s confession of using faulty receipts to justify various expenses was seen as the safety net that saved Ma from serious trouble.

“It is unquestionable that Hsia is another version of Yu, but the difference is Hsia will be rewarded handsomely in the future for taking a bullet for the team,” said Shih Cheng-feng (
施正峰), dean of the College of Indigenous Studies at National Dong Hwa University, predicting the prize for Hsia would be becoming Taiwan’s representative to the EU in Brussels.

Shih said Ma could not accept the US’ offer of help because he had to wait for a go-ahead from Beijing and the instructions to decline offers of foreign aid most likely came directly from the Ma’s right hand-man, Su Chi (
蘇起), who heads the National Security Council (NSC).

Lai I-chung (
賴怡忠), a member of the executive committee at Taiwan Thinktank, said the NSC must explain its role in the matter “because no deputy minister has the right nor the audacity to accept or decline” Washington’s offer of help.

Moreover, if the president and the premier were truly kept in the dark regarding the cable as the Executive Yuan and the Presidential Office have insisted, then Hsia was not only guilty of a poorly worded cable, but “defrauding the government by failing to communicate important information to the president,” he said.

Many in the ministry, including Hsia, said MOFA did not deserve to be berated because its only role in the typhoon relief effort was as a contact window while the Central Emergency Operation Center (CEOC) called decided when and what foreign aid was needed.

Hsia said that prior to Aug. 11, MOFA contacted the CEOC several times to inquire if the center thought Taiwan was in need of foreign help. Each time the answer was a resounding “no,” he said.

But CEOC pointed the finger right back at the ministry saying it never received a single request for information from MOFA.

“What we need now is the whole truth of what actually transpired. Was there any message or instruction given from the upper levels of government when MOFA declined help from other countries?” said Chen Chien-jen (
程建人), a former foreign minister.

Reluctant to make a quick judgment, he said the ministry probably “could have done more and better” and it was “common sense” to accept foreign assistance when it was offered, especially during a time of need.
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*Taipei Times》2009/8/26