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Ko Wen-je’s push for efficiency at City Hall taking a toll

Ko Wen-je’s push for efficiency at City Hall taking a toll

As Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je approaches the end of his first month in office, various department and office heads in the municipal government are generally showing two different kinds of reaction to working conditions under the new mayor. Some officials complain they feel like they are running a ‘drive-thru’ window, noting that in the past they might have had several weeks in which to research certain issues, but now find they must be ready to move on cases in just a few days. Other officials are high on the changes being made, saying they can now use communications tools like LINE to set up work assignments and don’t need to spend so much time in meetings, resulting in much better overall efficiency.

Ko is generating a great deal of interest and discussion with his challenges to contracts and deals left behind by the previous administration, such as the BOT contract with Farglory for the Taipei Giant Egg. Recently the city’s 1999 hotline has been logging some 20 to 30 calls a day from people voicing concerns, some three times the level seen in the past.

Yan Yi-feng, Director of the Animal Protection Department, comments that he seems to be constantly "on the clock." He says in the past various chiefs would call him on the phone when something came up, but now there are groups on LINE to discuss situations, and data and presentations can also be delivered through the network. As a result he feels like a soldier facing combat. He says the new environment means he has to be vigilant at all times and ready to act immediately when problems arise.

Some are chafing at changes like LINE, which can reach them virtually 24 hours a day and sometimes makes them feel they are constantly on standby. These staffers say the flow of messages and communication is fast and convenient and their work efficiency has improved. At the same time, however, the mayor incessantly calls for greater speed and shorter response times, and many of their colleagues are putting in overtime and having to come in on Saturdays and Sundays.

Many City Hall workers say they simply do not have enough time. Some explain, for example, that they need time to prepare cases involving the market or urban construction but often are not given enough of a head start beforehand. This can mean that decisions are made on the basis of inadequate preparations, a trend that has some personnel “very, very worried."

Many workers no longer take the afternoon break of 20 minutes or so that has been a routine for years in City Hall offices, adding to pressures and tension among staffers. A check with vendors in the building’s underground shopping area recently revealed that business has been slack recently, with one vendor complaining that sales were down by about two-thirds. The vendors are sympathetic to their upstairs colleagues, saying the mayor should focus on major issues and ‘not sweat the small stuff’. Their advice to Ko Wen-je: "Don’t make life so hard for your city employees."

"Not everyone is as smart as he is" is a complaint heard in some places. Staffers say that pressure to deliver minutes of a meeting almost as soon as they conclude means such reports are often rushed and oversimplified. Some issues involve complicated negotiations that are not reflected in the minutes, they say, and churning out quick reports can yield documents that only those who were present at the time will be able to understand.

In addition, some officials are saying that Ko’s campaigns against major development projects are unfair to people who have put in long hours putting them together. The new mayor is rejecting many aspects of such deals outright without considering the underlying efforts of staffers who have worked on them. As a result, they say, some City Hall workers feel that the mayor sees them all as ‘’idiots”.

Updated : 2021-09-27 00:56 GMT+08:00