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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 27 November, 2002, 13:23 GMT
Taiwan finds new finance chief
Rice farmers demonstrate against the withdrawal of subsidised loans
Powerful interest groups make the finance job a headache
Taiwan has found a new finance minister after two days of frantic searching, following the departure of previous incumbent Lee Yung-san over a controversy surrounding farm loans.

The new man is Lin Chuan, currently the government's chief statistician and possessed of a reputation for plain speaking and direct action.


This is a very difficult job... the finance minister is a job that will offend many people

Wang Rong-jou
Former vice-finance minister
The government's hope is that appointing a hardliner will limit the damage done to its financial probity after making crucial concessions on the farm loan issue.

"Appointing minister Lin is a show of our determination to continue financial reform," said the prime minister, Yu Shyi-kun.

"In the past, he has been cast as the bad guy to defend his ideals, and even when he was humiliated, his ideals did not change."

Walk softly

But some observers feared that he would be incapable of the diplomacy needed to thread his way through the powerful competing interest groups which have made the job such a poisoned chalice.

"He's a scholar, but he has no real financial experience," said Jason Tuan, head of research at Taiwan Securities Investment Advisory.

"The worry is whether he will be flexible. When you are head of the Statistics Directorate you can say what you like, but financial markets aren't so clean."

The complexities of the post mean it has been occupied by four different people in the 32 months since its voters brought a half-century of one-party rule to an end.

Loan troubles

The crisis which saw off Mr Lee is proof of that.

More than 120,000 people filled the streets of the capital, Taipei, to protest at the decision in August to reshape rural loans offered by farmers' and fishing co-operatives.

The lenders had a growing backlog of bad debts, amounting to about 15% of their total lending - more than twice the rate at the island's banks.

But many smallholders in Taiwan's agriculture business would find it impossible to get regular bank loans, and President Chen Shui-bian was forced on 17 November to back down.

No thanks

The affair meant that most of the obvious candidates lost no time in publicly taking themselves out of the running.

Former vice-finance minister Wang Rong-jou rejected the idea of taking over on Wednesday, saying his wife's poor health put him out of the running.

"This is a very difficult job," he told reporters. "The finance minister is a job that will offend many people.

Lin Tzong-yeong, also an ex-vice finance minister and now chairman of the International Commercial Bank of China, was more abrupt.

"There must be someone," he said. "But it won't be me."

See also:

23 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
26 Sep 02 | Country profiles
08 Feb 02 | Business
02 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
19 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
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