For Accountability, Transportation Minister Should Step Down
China Times, April 3, 2021
The Taroko Express, an express train service of the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA), derailed on April 2, causing 51 deaths and 188 injuries, making it the worst rail disaster in history. This incident shocked Taiwanese society and made the public sad and angry.
In appearance, this is caused by the contractor of the slope remediation not implementing the vehicle safety measures. But if we dig deeper, this is the result of the TRA’s organizational culture, which has always been muddling along. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has not committed to reform is another major factor.
After the incident, the TRA was quick to point finger at the contractor. But the TRA, as agency which issued the contract, failed to supervise the contractor on its safety measures and vehicle inspection. So it has to be held responsible, together with the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, which supervises the TRA.
More than two years ago, the TRA’s Puyuma Express derailed and rolled over, causing 18 deaths and 215 injuries. Responding to interpellation at the Legislative Yuan, the TRA administration then admitted that there were 25 derail incidents between 2016 and 2017. In the TRA’s history, the frequency of incidents get higher and higher, the death toll more and more, while the risk management becomes worse and worse.
In 2019, the government set up the Transportation Safety Board (TTSB). The following year, the investigation report on the rollover incident of Puyuma Express came out, indicating there were 18 shortcomings on the part of the TRA, ranging from shortage of manpower, repeated malfunctions of Puyuma Express forcing the driver to make time which led to speeding, etc. These shortcomings are all related to TRA's safety system. Other shortcomings pertain to operation, maintenance and organization.
The bitter lessons and the public announcement to reform are still in our ears, but none are implemented. For before the incident of the Taroko Express, in the first 3 months this year, three incidents happened, fortunately, without causalities. Unfortunately, just a few days ago, an electric maintenance car killed two railway squad workers.
This shows that all the loss of lives and broken families are still unable to awaken the officials in charge to reform. After the Puyuma Express incident, both the administrator of the TRA and the Transportation Minister resigned. This year, the Administrator of TRA is vacant for three months after Administrator Chang Chen-yuan retired in January. The TRA manages 500,000 passengers a day. Without a professional administrator in place, the passengers are risking their lives.
The lack of risk awareness has always been part of TRA's organizational culture. However, since the DPP has won power consecutively, it has the responsibility to reform the TRA, and not leave the passengers to bear the risk.
The main problem, however, is that the DPP has always been focusing its mind and resources on the anti-China campaign, power struggle, domestic advertisement and public opinion shaping. The governance of people's livelihood policy becomes secondary. This finds expression in the recent shortage of water and power, the air pollution, coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines, the crash of air force fighter, and the accident of tourism buses. On all of these, the officials in charge are not held accountable.
In recent years, the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen appointed officials based only on their party affiliation and on cronyism. The positions of various agencies become targets for grab by different factions within the DPP. It is all for political rewards, leaving professionalism aside. Hence, for accountability’s sake, the least is for Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Chia-lung, a political appointee, to step down. People are not asking too much if Premier Su Tseng-chang resigns as well.