As we say goodbye to the brilliant fireworks and excitement of Kaohsiung Lantern Festival, businesses have returned to the realities of life in April and begin to struggle to make a living. Today unemployment in Kaohsiung remains the highest in all Taiwan, local government debt is soaring and many industries are finding it difficult to survive. This is in stark contrast to frequent appearances by the mayor of Kaohsiung in the media, calling for an all out effort in the upcoming election and talking about making people’s life better. Unfortunately, such improvements are wishful thinking in the sort of atmosphere engendered by an election.
Last year, Kaohsiung city government successfully held the World Games attracting the attention of the whole country. Since then, Zuoying Wannian Folklore Festival and Kaohsiung Lantern Festival attracted several million visitors but ultimately had only a short term impact, making no real contribution to the enhancement of Kaohsiung’s economy. In other words, although the city government spent tens of millions of dollars on organizing these large scale events, the result was temporary. They made almost no contribution in terms of enhancing either the quality of life enjoyed by residents of Kaohsiung or consumer confidence. This is exactly the sort of thing that is most disconcerting about “election season.”
Over the last two years average household disposable income in Kaohsiung city fell from NT$980,000 in 2007 to just over NT$960,000 in 2008. Over the same period, unemployment increased from 4.3% to 5.9% and Kaohsiung city government now has debts totaling NT$272.4 billion, an average of more than NT$180,000 for every man, woman and child living in the city. On the basis of those simple statistics how on earth can politicians reasonably make claims about making lives better?
The infrastructure and urban facilities in Kaohsiung are excellent, but not one single major industry investment belongs exclusively to the city. Given that the election is transitory I very much hope that the city government will quickly turn its full attention to the economy and the needs of industry. We badly need to find ways to encourage Mainland Chinese enterprises to invest in Kaohsiung Harbor’s International Container Center, establish international distribution, goods and processing centers, encourage industries to put down roots in Kaohsiung, increase employment opportunities and retain local talent. As members of the same Kaohsiung family we absolutely need to work together to improve the economy and transform Kaohsiung into a shining beacon of a city.