Taiwan's prime minister says the island's defense minister and Cabinet secretary submitted their resignations Wednesday as criticism over the government's handling of Typhoon Morakot grows. Liu Chao-shiuan says a possible Cabinet reshuffle is in the works. The official death toll from the typhoon stands at 136 but is expected to go much higher with material losses estimated to be several billion dollars.
Prime Minister Liu says he has received resignation letters from both Taiwan's Defense Minister Chen Chao-min and Cabinet Secretary-General Hsueh Hsiang-chuan. But for now, he has asked them to stay in their posts to continue to help with the recovery work in the wake of Typhoon Morakot.
Liu says that he and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou have agreed that as they focus on recovery work, they will take a look at the entire Cabinet and make a comprehensives decision regarding a reshuffle before early September. Liu also says Chen and Hsueh's resignations will be reviewed at that time.
Cabinet Secretary Hsueh has been heavily criticized for leaving Taiwan's disaster operation center on August 8 to have dinner at an upscale hotel in the island's capital. Critics point out that Hsueh left his post as the island's central and southern regions were being lashed by torrential rains from Typhoon Morakot.
The typhoon hit Taiwan on the same day that the island celebrates Father's Day and Hsueh says he left the disaster center to attend a holiday dinner, but only briefly.
The defense minister has been a target of criticism because of what some say is the military's failure to deploy enough troops to help out with the rescue effort and to get equipment to remote and flooded areas.
Deputy Foreign Minister Andrew Hsia has also tendered his resignation to take responsibility for a memo sent to overseas diplomatic offices last week, that declined aid from other countries.
Several days after the memo was sent, President Ma Ying-jeou announced Taiwan would accept foreign aid.
Some believe that a Cabinet reshuffle should come right away and that high-ranking officials should be the first to go. Opposition Democratic Progressive Party legislator Pan Men-an thinks that Liu should be the first to go.
Pan says that it is obvious that of all the people, it's the premier who should go. He says the longer the premier stays in office the more the public is going to lose respect for him.
The president is also being targeted and there have been some calls for him to take responsibility or even resign. Mr. Ma has refused to step down, and says it is his duty to lead the government in reconstruction work following the disaster.
Public opinion polls say that following the disaster his ratings have slipped to new lows. One poll conducted by the United Daily News in Taipei showed Mr. Ma's popularity slipping to 29 percent, compared with 66 percent when he first stepped into office in May of last year.
Mr. Ma traveled to the village of Shiao Lin in southern Taiwan on Wednesday, a farming settlement that was buried in a mudslide more than a week ago when Typhoon Morakat dumped more than two meters of rain on parts of the island.
Mr. Ma says the final death toll from the storm could be over 500 due to the large number of missing people. Material losses are estimated at more than $3 billion.