PRIVATIZATION DEVELOPMENT IN TAIWAN: BACKGROUND AND ISSUES

This study examines the development of privatization policy in Taiwan by focusing on the background changes and symposium issues. The background of privatization policy has to do with Taiwan's economic liberalization policy, political democratization movement, and recent changes in the environment. The symposium articles consist of two case studies investigating the privatization implementation issues of two public enterprises and one survey study comparing perception of privatization performance between government officials and private contractors. The study concludes with discussions about lessons and implications of Taiwan's privatization experience.






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Publication: Public Administration Quarterly
Author: Liou, Kuotsai Tom
Date published: April 1, 2010

INTRODUCTION

For more than two decades, privatization has been one of the major public polices emphasized by many developed and developing countries to reduce the role of the state in national economies and to increase government performance and efficiency (e.g., de Ru and Wettenhall, 1990; Cook and Kirkpatrick 1988). For example, privatization policy has been emphasized in the developed countries such as the United Kingdom (e.g., Dunsire, 1990; Fraser and Wilson, 1988; Kay, et al., 1986; Heald, 1985), France (e.g., Delion, 1990; Trivedi, 1988), and the United States (e.g., Seidman, 1990; Henig, 1989-90; Pack, 1987; Savas, 1982). Similarly, privatization policy has also been adopted by several newly industrializing and developing countries in Asia (e.g., India, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea), Africa (e.g., Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana), and Latin America (e.g., Chile, Honduras, Peru) (Shin, 1990; Ayubi, 1990; Lim and Moore, 1989; Ramanadbam, 1989; Cook and Kirkpatrick, 1988; and Stren, 1988).

Since the 1980s, privatization policy has been developed by the Taiwanese government for different reasons. First, privatization policy was adopted by the government to achieve the goal of economic liberalization and internationalization policy that was designed to reduce government control and to enhance international investment and competition (Lu, 1985). Privatization policy was further promoted by policymakers because of the development of political democratization movement to eliminate the control of ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party in economic activities. Based on the concepts of New Public Management, researchers of public administration have also supported the development of privatization policy to remove bureaucratic problems in old state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and to increase operational efficiency for new public projects.

The purpose of this symposium is to introduce research findings about the implementation of privatization policy in Taiwan. The findings of the symposium will contribute to the literature of privatization and administrative reform so that researchers can better understand the phenomenon of privatization policy (de Ru and Wettenhall, 1990). This paper reviews important information about major concepts and strategies of privatization as well as motives and background of Taiwan's privatization. The paper further provides summaries of three symposiums articles and discussions of privatization lessons and challenges.

PRIVATIZATION CONCEPTS AND STRATEGIES

While privatization policy has been very popular among policymakers and researchers, the term privatization means different things to different people. In the United States, privatization has been referred to as "any process aimed at shifting functions and responsibilities, in whole or in part, from the government to the private sector" (United States General Accounting Office, 1997:46). Seidenstat (1996) offers similar definition and explaines privatization as "the transfer of ownership, control, or operation of an enterprise or function form the government/public sector to the private sector." At the international level, the term privatization includes various meanings because of the individual political and economic situations in many countries. For example, Cook and Kirkpatrick (1988: 3-4) explain the term privatization from three approaches: (1) denationalization or divestiture, which means a change in the ownership of an enterprise (or part of an enterprise) from the public to the private sector; (2) deregulation, which involves the liberalization of entry into activities previously restricted to public sector enterprises; and (3) contracting-out, which relates to the transference of the provision of goods or services from the public to the private sector, while government retains ultimate responsibility for supplying the service.

These different definitions are closely related to the background and motives of privatization policy. In their study of privatization policy and public management, for example, Johnston and Seidenstat (2001: 390) explain that privatization became the primary strategy for policy makers and public mangers because of the increasing interest in fiscal retrenchment, the output-oriented efficiency model, and the new view of citizens as customers. In the United Kingdom, Dunsire (1990: 40-41) explains several motives for privatization. First, privatization increases individual freedom of choice because state-owned enterprises (SOEs) limit consumers' choice. Second, privatization increases efficiency, both at the macro-economic level and at the level of the firm, due to the fact that nationalized industries do not fear bankruptcy or takeover and their managers have little incentive to maximize the effectiveness of the resources available to them. Third, privatization encourages employee identification with their firms through shareholding, and thus generates greater productivity. Finally, privatization promotes greater public identification with the capitalist system through wider ownership of shares. Dunsire (1990) further argues that these motives are not entirely compatible with one another and that they are in part responses to changing circumstances and political goals.

Despite its various definitions, the implementation of privatization policy can include many options or strategies. For example, Johnston and Seidenstat (2001: 391) identify major privatization options, including contracting out (outsourcing); franchising; load (service) shedding; publicprivate partnerships; grants, subsidies, and vouchers; asset divestment; competitive contracting (managed competition); volunteer services; and total privatization. Many of these privatization strategies have been recognized by Salamon (2002) as important governmental tools in the age of new governance. Among these strategies, Savas (1989-90) points out that most researchers in the United States focus on the strategy of contracting out in their studies of privatization. At the international level, most studies of privatization tend to examine policy or managerial issues that are related to privatization (or deregulation) among SOEs (Delion, 1990; Ramanadham, 1989).

PRIVATIZATION DEVELOPMENT IN TAIWAN

The development of privatization policy in Taiwan has been closely related to changes of its economic and political environment. On the economic environment, the Taiwan government has promoted privatization policy to achieve its economic goal of liberalization emphasized since the 1980s. On the political environment, the privatization policy has been further emphasized by the government to meet the political demand of democratization movement occurred since the 1990s. The consideration of both economic and political motives has speeded up the implementation of privatization policy. The changes of economic and political environment, however, have also resulted in many challenging issues that may affect the effectiveness of privation policy.

A. Economic Motives

The economic goal of privatization policy in Taiwan focuses on the liberalization of its SOEs (Liou, 1992). Taiwan's SOEs operate not only in the natural monopoly industries, such as electricity, communications, and transportation, but also in natural resource industries, such as petroleum, coal, sugar, and salt, in manufacturing industries, such as steel, machinery, and engineering, as well as in financial industries, such as banks, trusts, and insurance companies. The term "liberalization" represents both the reduction of government control and regulation in economic spheres and the gradual elimination of state subsidies to manufacturers (Lu, 1985: 1080). The motives of Taiwan's SOE privatization are related to the ideas of denationalization and deregulation arguments explained in the previous section.

For the past decades, SOEs have made great contributions to Taiwan's economic development. SOEs contributed in the following major areas. First, SOEs helped economic growth during the early stages of Taiwan's economic development (Crane, 1989-90; Kuo, et al, 1981). Second, SOEs assisted in promoting successful changes in Taiwan's economic structure (i.e., from agriculture to industry in the 1950s and 1960s, Amsden, 1979). Third, as protectors of the "people's livelihood," SOEs have contributed to Taiwan's national economic stability. SOEs have helped reduce inflation at critical moments (e.g., the oil shocks of the 1970s and 1980s) and served as important sources of employment and countercyclical stimuli of growth (Crane,1989-90). Specifically, SOEs aid in the short-term stabilization of the economy (including maintaining national growth, controlling inflation, and leading in capital investment) and provid state managers the means to carry out a significant portion of the longer-term structural changes (e.g., SOEs role in Taiwan's Ten Major Projects).

Despites their contributions to economic development, Taiwan's SOEs have received criticisms about its performance. In the study of Taiwan's SOE performance, Liou (1994) report findings from both the international and the domestic comparisons. The international comparison uses the criterion of SOEs overall deficit as a percentage of GDP (gross domestic products), which was defined as the difference between current plus capital expenditure, and revenue plus receipts of current transfers and of nongovernment capital transfers (Short, 1984: 144). Between the 1951-1980, the overall deficits in Taiwan's SOEs (e.g., 3.8%) were larger than those in developed countries (e.g., the United Kingdom, the United States) but were better (i.e., lower) than those in other industrializing countries (e.g., India, Korea). The domestic comparison focuses on the performance between Taiwan's SOEs and its robust private sector. Researchers criticized SOEs as being inefficient and unprofitable. For example, researchers notice that SOEs financial performance was inferior to the performance of private enterprises after comparing state-owned manufacturing enterprises with 300 major private enterprises during the period 1976-1984 (Chang, 1986).

The economic motives of privatizing SOEs are related to the government's concerns of inefficiency of several SOEs, the short-term economic condition, and the long-term economic transformation. First, since the early 1980s, the Ministry of Economic Affairs has decided to merge or shut down several enterprises in the face of continuing losses (e.g., Taiwan Alkali Co., China Coal-Mining Developing Co., and Taiwan Metal Mining Co.). Next, to mediate the inflationary pressure occurred in the late 1980s, the government proposed to privatize SOEs to encourage public investment and maintain the stability of the price. Finally, on the economic transformation, the Taiwan government intended to replace labor-intensive industry by technology-intensive or capital-intensive industries (Lu, 1985). One example of this transformation is related to the deregulation of the traditionally state-dominated financial system. Privatization policy will permit the establishment of private banks and financial institutions, which is important to the development of the capital industry.

B. Political Motives

Besides the above economic reasons, another motive for the privatization policy has to do with Taiwan's political democratization movement. As researchers indicate, the privatization decision is mainly a political decision (e.g., Dunsire, 1990; de Ru and Wettenhall, 1990) and policymakers adopt and implement privatization policy to promote their political philosophy (e.g., reducing the role and the size of government) and political interests (e.g., gains in public opinion for reducing government waste). These political reasons have also influenced the development of privatization policy in Taiwan because the political democratization movement has changed the traditional political ideology and enhanced the speed of privatization.

Since 1986, the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party has initiated fundamental political changes that moved the political system toward the representative democracy (Myers, 1987). The motives for the changes were from both longand short-term considerations. The long-term impetus for democratization came from three factors: the KMT's ideological commitment to constitutional democracy; the economic, social, and political maturation of the population; and the increasing electoral appeal of the opposition politicians. The short-term motives for the democratization had to do with several immediate problems facing the regime in 1986. These include the succession problem facing the KMT, a series of internal and foreign shocks in 1985 and 1986 (e.g., the bankruptcy of Taipei's Tenth Credit Cooperative due to mismanagement by officials with ties to KMT politicians), and the consideration of strengthening the KMT's appeal in the coming elections to fill seats in the Legislative Yuan and the National Assembly (Chou and Nathan, 1987). Since then, several important changes have occurred in Taiwan's political arena. They are the lifting of martial law in 1987, the election of Lee, Teng-hui (a native Taiwanese in the KMT)) as President in 1992, the emergence of several opposition parties (especially the Democratic Progressive Party, DPP), and the election of Chen, Shui-bian (the leader of the DPP) in 2000.

Political democratization movement has affected the privatization policy in terms of changes of traditional ideology on Taiwan's SOEs. Traditionally, SOEs in Taiwan, due to the nature of state intervention, have been regarded as the implementation of Sun Yat-sen thought, the KMT's ideology (Gregor, 1981). Taiwan's SOEs has covered many important economic areas, including the monopoly utility industries (e.g., electricity), the natural resource industries (e.g., petroleum), the manufacturing industries (e.g., steel), and the financial industries (e.g., banks). With the progress of the political democratization movement, the old ideology faded. Privatization is viewed by the public as a right direction because, if democratization is good politically, then privatization, in both forms (denationalization and deregulation), will also benefit the society because it represents democratization in economic activities.

In addition to the traditional KMT ideology, the interest in privatization policy in Taiwan has been closely related to the New Public Management (NPM) concepts emphasized at the international level. Since the 1980s, many developed and developing countries have recognized the problem of government growth and inefficiency and promoted new public policies to reverse the trend of growth and to improve the management of government. The NPM movement represents the philosophy behind these new policies and emphasizes such concepts as output and performance, entrepreneurship and competition, as well as new instruments for steering, control and accountability (Boston, et al., 1996; Rhodes, 1997). Policymakers in Taiwan implemented privatization policy and new instruments (e.g., Build-Operate-Transfer; BOT) to reform existing SOEs and to manage new public enterprises.

C. Environmental Changes

Besides the economic and political motives discussed previously, there are some changes in Taiwan's domestic environment that have affected the implementation of privatization policy. On the one hand, Taiwan was successful in reducing negative effects in the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis (i.e., comparing those with its neighboring countries) due to its conservative financial approach and entrepreneurial strengths (Liou, 2002). Taiwan also became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) as an independent economy in 2002. Taiwan has diversified its trade markets and has reduced its exports to the United States (e.g., China and Hong as the topic markets). In 2007, Taiwan enjoyed a large trade surplus of $28.8 billion ($282.7 billion in exports and $253.9 billion in imports, National Statistics, n.d.) and its foreign reserves were among the world's largest (i.e., $274.7 billion, which is the fifth in the world). Taiwan has also changed its economic structure as a high technology and service-based economic system (e.g., service 70.7%, industry 27.8%, and agriculture 1.5% of GDP in 2007) (National Statistics, n.d.). Several Taiwan's high technology industries (e.g., computer chip, LCD panel, DRAM computer memory, networking equipment) are at the top of the world market.

On the other hand, Taiwan has experienced several emerging challenges that affect its economic development. Taiwan has gradually lost its comparative advantage of inexpensive labor and cannot compete with those offered from neighboring countries. The relocations of many manufacturing and labor intensive industries to the mainland China and Southeastern countries (e.g., Vietnam) have resulted in the rise of unemployment population in Taiwan. Taiwan's investment has deteriorated because of the influence of special interest groups on government policy since the 1990s under the Lee, Teng-hui's administration. Regarding the investment issue in the mainland China, Lee's "patience over haste" policy has been ineffective in limiting the increase of Taiwanese businesses investment in China and has brought internal conflicting arguments in Taiwan's society. The election of Chen, Shui-bian of the DPP in 2000 has not resolved the close connection between special interest groups and government officials and the negative consequences of these connections. In addition, many policies developed by the Chen's administration have brought political confrontation between the Pan-Blue Coalition of parties (led by the KMT) and the Pan-Green Coalition of parties (led by the DPP), which result in instability, tension, and distrust crisis in Taiwan's society.

These changes in Taiwan's domestic environment have had negative impact on Taiwan's economic development and its implementation of privatization policy. In the past, researchers have recognized several factors contributing to Taiwan's economic development, including for example: social stability, labor-management harmony, strategic economic planning, and a responsible government (Liou, 2002). These factors are critical to attract foreign capitals and to implement public policies for the long-term development. But, the past sound development environment has been deteriorated because of the inexperience of Chen's administration, the inconsistence of government's policies (e.g., policy on the nuclear power development), and the increasing political confrontation between the two parties. The implementation of privatization policy thus has experienced obstacles because of the lack of foreign capitals, the argument of political ideologies, the outdated laws and regulations, the rise of labor-management disputes, and the connection between politicians and business interest groups.

SYMPOSIUM ISSUES AND FINDINGS

The purpose of this symposium is to examine the development of privatization policy in Taiwan. As explained, it is important and necessary for researchers to examine the implementation of privatization cases and to report research findings so that we can enhance our understanding and knowledge of the privatization lessons. The symposium consists of two articles that examine the implementation of privatization policy in two public enterprises and one article that reports perceptions of public managers and contractors on the privatization performance.

Chung-Yuang Jan and Chun-Yuan Wang examine the privatization lessons in the case of Chunghwa Telecom Company (CHT), a well-established existing SOE. Jan and Wang first review the literature of privatization and introduce the background of CHT. They conducted indepth interviews among several CHT stakeholders, representing senior members from the workers' union, senior government officials from the government agencies, and staff members from three departments of the CHT. Their findings are that: (1) privatization will enhance efficiency if it correspondents to its policy philosophy; (2) privatization can facilitate organizational competitiveness if it considers organizational atmosphere and culture; (3) lack of accountability in privatization leads to corruption; and (4) privatization tends to disregard the public interest if the government fails to recognize its changed function.

Focusing on the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) privatization model, His-Kai Cheng analyzes the implementation of BOT in the Taiwan High Speed Railway Consortium (THSRC), a new public transportation project. Cheng reports major characteristics of the BOT model by focusing on such components as policy and institution development, financial arrangement, and public-private partnership. Cheng further examines the development of the THSRC and reports lessons in the three areas of policy and institution, finance, and partnership. Cheng notices that Taiwan's government has adopted a general approach regarding the legislation aspect of the THSRC project. He points out that the THSRC project has not only forced the government to examine and modify its existing legal and administrative institutions in response to continuous changes, but also challenged both the public and private sectors to learn to operate in a highly dynamic administrative and legal environment. He concludes with suggestions about the importance of trust-building and joint-learning in the implementation of BOT projects.

Kaifeng Yang, Jun-Yi Hsieh, and Tzung-Shiun Li study the performance of contracting-out policy by comparing the perceptions between public managers and contractors. Using "administrator as conservator" and "bureaucratic capture" theories, Yang and his colleagues identify 293 cases from the Central Personnel Administration and the Public Construction Commission of the Executive Yuan, two agencies that monitor contractingout projects in Taiwan. They surveyed both government officials and private contractors in the 293 cases on their knowledge about contracting policies, procedures, and outcomes toward the contracting services. The results show that public managers in central government hold a lower evaluation toward the performance of contracting out than that of managers in local governments and all contractors. They conclude that neither "administrator as conservator" nor "bureaucratic capture" should be accepted as universal in describing public managers and suggest that future researchers need to consider other factors and to be careful in the study of contracting-out performance.

In sum, authors of the three articles have developed their studies by using important concepts in the New Public Management and related good governance approach. These include concerns about government efficiency and accountability, public-private partnerships, and privatization performance. The findings of these studied have provided evidences to test the implementation and the effect of privatization policy.

CONCLUSION

Privatization policy has been emphasized by policymakers and public managers to reduce the growth of government size and to improve the efficiency of public enterprises since the early 1980s. Taiwan's privatization policy has been developed to achieve its goals of economic liberalization and internalization policy. Privatization policy has been further promoted by policymakers to meet interests of Taiwan's political democratization movement. The implementation of privatization policy has produced various results that are useful for scholars to examine the validity of privatization arguments and to improve future management of privatization operations.

The three articles presented in this symposium have studied Taiwan's privatization policy from three different perspectives. The first article examined the privatization of a well-established SOE by focusing on such issues as management efficiency, organizational competition, bureaucratic corruption, and public interests. The second article studied the privatization of a new public enterprise by reviewing major institutional, financial, and collaboration issues in the implementation of BOT model. While the first two articles are case studies of individual public enterprises, the last article adopts a survey research approach to compare the perception of contract-out performance between government officials and private contractors. The findings of these articles have enhanced our knowledge about privatization policy and have contributed to the literature of privatization and public management.

Besides the issues identified in these studies, the implementation of privatization policy in Taiwan has also encountered several challenging issues resulting from environmental changes. For example, privatization policy has been emphasized by Chen's administration in the reforms of Taiwan's financial and bank institutions. But, there are many claims against Chen and his family for receiving funds from financial enterprises during the government's banking reforms. A recent government report indicated that questionable issues occurred in several business deals of the second financial reform, including Chinatrust Financial Holding Co acquiring a stake in bigger rival Meg, Taishin's acquisition of Chang Hwa Bank, a management reshuffle at China Development Financial, and Yuanta Financial's acquisition deal (Reuters, 2009). These and other illegal or unethical issues may be side problems resulting from Taiwan's unique political environment. The issues, however, do raise questions about the impact of domestic environment on the implementation of privatization policy. The issue is especially serious for developing countries or transitional societies because these countries in general do not have sound institutional and social capabilities to support the policy.

Finally, the effect of privatization policy will be influenced by the growing problems of recent global financial crisis originated from some developed countries (e.g., the United States). The financial crisis represents a challenge from the external environment and will affect the attraction of foreign capital investment in the implementation of privatization policy. How do the internal institutional shortcomings and the external financial crisis affect the privatization policy? Will the effect be different among developed and developing countries? Can we develop a general theoretical framework to test the validity of privatization policy? Future researchers may want to investigate these and other related issues to provide further evidences about the impact of privatization policy.

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Author affiliation:

KUOTSAI TOM LIOU

University of Central Florida

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