Chang Sheng-ford: Taiwan finance minister bows out

The imminent end of his term will be something of a relief to Taiwan's Chang Sheng-ford, who has struggled to maintain economic growth amid political battles.

For the second year running, FinanceAsia has ranked the finance ministers of the Asia-Pacific region’s 12 largest economies.

We're releasing the results day by day, from lowest to best. For the results so far, click here. For last year's results, click here.

FinanceAsia considers several factors when thinking about how to compare the performance of these men over the past 12 months. The role’s responsibilities and powers vary between countries but each minister contributes to fiscal policy and the budget, accesses capital markets, regulates financial institutions, and drives reform. Investor perceptions are one way to view how good a job they are doing, particularly when times are tough.

But the hardest criterion is independence. Most finance ministers serve at the pleasure of their prime ministers, presidents, or military dictators. Their ability to get things done requires political deftness, mastery of policy, sway over the bureaucracy, and the will to fight for the public interest.

Today's choice is counting down the days to the end of his term in office after the governing party lost office in a landslide amid a weak economic picture.

Ranked No9: Chang Sheng-ford, Taiwan

After a successful 2014, Taiwan’s finance minister Chang Sheng-ford has since had a tough time sustaining the island’s economic growth as demand has weakened in neighbouring countries.

The outgoing finance minister put forward measures in 2014 to constrain property speculation and improve the sustainability of the government budget by encouraging public-private-partnership projects. But last year Chang failed to overturn a steep decline in exports, traditionally a central pillar of the island’s economy. 

Taiwanese exports sank by 10.6% in 2015 compared with the previous year, contracting in each of the final 11 months of the year, cementing the country’s worst trade performance since the global financial crisis of 2008.

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With manufacturing declining for seven straight months from May to November, Taiwanese industrial production is also on course to decline compared with 2014.

Behind it all is a global slowdown in PC and smartphone shipments. But instead of trying to take corrective measures to protect the technology-heavy economy, Chang spent much of last year persuading lawmakers and politicians to retain the capital gains tax on stock investments that he advanced in 2012 to help increase government revenue.

The stock gains tax was one of the factors blamed as trading activity shrunk on the Taiwan Stock Exchange. Its eventual scrapping in November was a decision welcomed by both of Taiwan’s biggest political parties, the Kuomintang and Democratic Progressive Party, as well as by the Financial Supervisory Commission.

As a result of plunging exports, the Taiwanese economy slipped into reverse in the third quarter of last year, contracting by 1.01% compared with a year earlier. 

Tomorrow: a new appointee with elections in mind

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