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MOE heads, Kaohsiung officials step down after explosions
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-08-07 08:43 PM
Chang Chia-juch walked away from his position as Minister of Economics Thursday, issuing his resignation after a harried week spent setting up and overseeing an emergency center in Kaohsiung while keeping an eye on the economic woes he has been battling for the past year and a half in Taipei.

Also stepping down at the MOE was Deputy Minister Woody Duh, who had taken over many of Chang’s duties while the minister was helping to coordinate rebuilding efforts in Kaohsiung.

The departure of the two MOE officials came not long after four officials of the Kaohsiung City Government including Deputy Mayor Wu Hong-mo handed in their resignations. Wu’s action came at the same time as Lee Hsien-yi, the head of the Water Resources Bureau; Yang Ming-chou, the head of the Bureau of Public Works; and Chen Tsun-yung, the director of the city’s Mass Rapid Transit Bureau.

All three men in the latter group have been constantly in the news during the past week as long-hidden secrets about the maze of pipelines that lies under the streets in the heart of the city have emerged, and charges and counter-charges have raged back and forth between government agencies and petroleum and chemical companies over who should be held responsible for the explosions that have claimed 30 lives and injured more than 300.

Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu has yet to approve the resignations of the four officials.

Chang Chia-juch had his work cut out for him when he took office as Minister of Economics on February 18, 2013. Taiwan’s economy was already on thin ice, and he threw himself into the task of developing a strategy for bringing about a revival in the nation’s manufacturing prowess.

He found himself tasked with the challenge of seeing the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant through its latest up-and-down cycle of mothballing and construction, and saddled with the job of rationalizing Taiwan's tariffs on utility rates. Added to that was the controversy over cross-strait treaties on services and trade and drawing up a blueprint for Taiwan’s Free Economic Pilot Zones.

Farther down the road to the future loomed a gathering energy crisis and the grim reality of Taiwan’s weakening stature in the world of international trade. Chang bore the pressure and the humiliation without complaint, constantly juggling his schedule to shift from one crisis to another.

When the streets in one section of downtown Kaohsiung erupted in a series of explosions late on July 31, gas leaks were initially suspected to have caused the destructive blasts, and Chang rushed to the Central Disaster Response Center to oversee and coordinate the efforts of various government agencies in working with the Kaohsiung City Government.

He then went south to Kaohsiung and helped to set up a service center at Fengshan with the help of the Industrial Development Bureau. For a week he stayed at the service center, leading his colleagues around the clock in keeping tabs on casualties and rescue efforts and making sure that victims in the disaster were receiving adequate treatment.

Kaohsiung has now progressed beyond the rescue stage and begun implementing post-disaster reconstruction. The government is working with local industry to start up recovery efforts while reviewing laws and regulations covering the disaster and the events that led up to it. Part of that involves tightening the supervision and management of underground pipelines and other parts of the infrastructure to ensure that the blasts of last week do not re-occur.

In the midst of all this Chang kept an eye on the back-and-forth between the central government and the local administration in Kaohsiung, counseling his subordinates to maintain an attitude of fairness and objectivity and reminding them to resist becoming involved in politics. And above all, he urged them not to shrink from their responsibility in everything that was happening.

After a week of practically non-stop work handling affairs of the ministry and sorting out the mysteries of the Kaohsiung disaster, Chang grew weary of seeing political figures sending wrong messages to people in the government and people on the street. He saw too many officials posturing and looking for ways to improve their party’s chances in upcoming elections, seemingly unconcerned about the plight of the victims and their need to be included in the rebuilding.

Finally Chang decided he had had enough. Stung by legislators who faulted him for failing to put in an appearance in the disaster area even though he was putting in extraordinary hours in the Fengshan Service Center, he quit. Chang issued a letter of resignation Thursday afternoon, complaining that although he wanted very much to continue assisting in the relief effort, he could not bear being put down by political figures in the government.

Chang also had a message for members of the opposition who unfailingly fall back on the boycott as a last resort. He criticized them for ignoring issues of right and wrong and downplaying the interests of the people. They are part of the problem, he said, and their actions accomplish little other than acting to paralyze the government. He emphasized that he is deeply concerned about Taiwan’s long-term economic health.

Chang’s letter of resignation finished on a disheartening note: “Today the troubles arising from the explosions in Kaohsiung continue. Our country has long since failed to make any forward progress as local governments bicker constantly with the central government, roiling the political scene everywhere. I have chosen to put everything on my own shoulder and bear the blame in this. I only hope that the ruling and opposition parties will put aside their own partisan interests and work together to solve the current crises we are facing.”

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