Rigid administrative bureaucracies can be among the most oppressive of tyrannies. Attitudes and actions of officials exercising jurisdiction over innumerable decisions affecting people?s daily lives sometimes are abusive; and the authority invested in officialdom can become the cloak for pervasive corruption, victimizing a citizenry by compelling it to pay for services to which it is freely entitled.
SU NAN-CHENG came to public office aware of these dangers and convinced that access of citizens to key decision-makers -- who act with integrity -- is essential to good government. Also vitalizing both government and private sectors of the city he heads is the advice he exuberantly follows: "Enjoy your work."
Born in 1936 into the family of a small merchant with long antecedents in Taiwan, SU was nine years old when World War II ended, terminating Japan?s colonial rule and restoring Taiwan to Chinese sovereignty. In grade school he peddled soybean milk. Suffering the snubs of richer classmates, he early resolved to help the poor. While he was at the university he produced and directed a radio music and question-and-answer program and after his two years in the military, taught high school for five years. Beginning in 1966 he served for 10 years as city councilman, at the same time working as sales manager of the Taiwan Times Daily News. Campaigning as an independent candidate, he was elected Mayor of Tainan in September 1977 and was handily reelected in 1981.
Immediately after his first election he moved the mayor's office to the ground floor of City Hall so that he could readily be seen by the townspeople. His office is open until 11 p.m. to accommodate constituents who cannot come during the day, therefore he usually sleeps on a couch in the next room. SU sleeps little and is accustomed to jogging through the city at 5 a.m., calling the citizenry to get up; residents now answer with good nature and some join him.
Three months after assuming office SU established the Prompt Service Center, staffed in part by experienced volunteers who are retired government workers. In a day it may expedite delayed applications, attend to clogged sewers or forgotten rubbish, give guidance on dealing with laws and regulations, resolve questions of taxes or land disputes and aid citizens with health, monetary or family problems. He built House of Love where the widowed, aged and orphaned enjoy a recreation/tea room and lodging at minimal cost. The new Labor Activities Center is equipped with library, recreation and meeting facilities, and well-furnished, low-priced rooms for guests.
SU's interests and concerns are catholic. Historic temples, forts and gardens are being restored. All these are reminders that Tainan was the capital of Taiwan during the two centuries when the island, named Formosa by the Portuguese, was first a Dutch colony, then was conquered by Koxinga (Cheng Cheng-kung) who was loyal to the remnants of the Ming Dynasty of China, and next came under Ching Dynasty rule. Tainan children's art is displayed around the city during contests. Young adult artists from throughout Taiwan are being invited to exhibit in Tainan and photographs of prize winning works are published. Sports thrive in the new stadium and the 74-acre athletic park which was formerly a garbage dump. The 68-square mile seaport is developing low cost housing on reclaimed land, estates for light, non-polluting industries and ponds for intensive culture of eels, crabs and numerous varieties of fish.
The mayor's financing is equally enterprising. The regular budget for education, police and ongoing functions for this city of 620,000 is only half the annual special budget for construction. The latter is raised in large part from the sale of, or taxes on, land which has appreciated as the result of government development policies. Also, scrupulous accounting and efficient building contracts keep expenditures to a minimum.
Most meaningful of all, SU is imbuing citizens with pride in participation in their city's affairs. From the first, cities have been the venue for the fullest expression of a civilization; in Tainan this is being accomplished anew as SU carries forward his theme: "We must preserve our historical heritage while building for tomorrow."
In electing SU NAN-CHENG to receive the 1983 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes his making government readily available and responsive to the needs of all citizens, while attractively modernizing an historic city.