Taipei, Aug. 27 (CNA) The Ministry of Digital Affairs, which has been given a broad mandate for overseeing the development of digital infrastructure and cybersecurity in Taiwan, was inaugurated at a ceremony in Taipei Saturday by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).
At a plaque unveiling ceremony, Tsai said the opening of the ministry was a milestone in turning Taiwan into a smart, resilient island to better vitalize businesses and cope with national security threats.
While it is still unclear what specific projects will be overseen by the new ministry, Tsai named data integration, telecommunication, digital technology, cyber security, internet development, talent cultivation, and innovation as some of the policy areas the ministry would be responsible for.
The ministry is expected to provide digital solutions to support small and medium-sized enterprises -- which make up 90 percent of Taiwan's businesses -- and improve cyber security capacity in response to "omnipresent threats" in the rapidly evolving digital world, according to Tsai.
The new ministry is headed by Audrey Tang (唐鳳), who had served as minister without portfolio in charge of digital affairs under the Tsai administration since October 2016.
In accordance with the Organization Act for the Ministry of Digital Affairs, which was enacted by the Legislature in December last year, the ministry's personnel size is capped at 598, including 300 positions for those from outside the civil service.
Some opposition lawmakers, including Taiwan People's Party Legislator Tsai Pi-ru (蔡壁如), have questioned whether the latter openings would risk nepotism or the hiring of partisan "keyboard warriors" tasked with manipulating public opinion in favor of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
In response, Tang said the hiring setup would give the ministry greater flexibility to recruit top private sector talent.
Tang also sought to assuage fears the new ministry could develop into an "autocratic digital big brother" involved in digital surveillance, saying that "industrial regulations and licensing are both outside the ministry's purview."
In a joint statement issued by the Open Culture Foundation in July, civil society groups criticized the ministry for not making its plans public in light of the major responsibilities it has been handed.
The statement gave Estonia as an example for Taiwan to learn from, saying the Baltic nation had first drawn up national policy blueprints before forming new government agencies to implement digital governance initiatives.
"This approach not only won the trust of the people but also increased policy transparency and public participation, making Estonia a digital power," the statement added.
Pending approval of the Legislature, the ministry is set to receive NT$5.7 billion (US$188.14 million) from the central government's main budget, and a further NT$16 billion from a special budget program on infrastructure for the fiscal year 2023.
The ministry is divided into two administrations -- the Administration for Digital Industries, and the Administration for Cyber Security -- and six departments: digital strategy, communications and cyber resilience, resources management, digital service, democracy network, and plural innovation.
The ministry will also be staffed by deputy ministers Herming Chiueh (闕河鳴), an associate professor in the Department of Electronics and Electrical Engineering at National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, Lee Huai-jen (李懷仁), chairman of iPASS Corp., and Yeh Ning (葉寧), a counselor of the National Communications Commission.