2015年7月17日 星期五

Change at top needed amid era of corruption

Wu Ching-chin 吳景欽

(Wu Ching-chin is an associate professor, chair of Aletheia University’s law department and director of Taiwan Forever Association)
(作者為真理大學法律系副教授兼系主任、永社理事)

Translated by Zane Kheir

TAIPEI TIMES / Editorials 2015.07.15
http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2015/07/15/2003623051

煙火。自由時報/資料照,記者傅潮標攝

Miaoli County’s debt has reached more than NT$60 billion (US$1.9 billion), leaving the county unable to pay its civil servants and begging the Executive Yuan for a bailout to meet its immediate commitments. The county could not have fallen into such a financial black hole because of natural causes; human factors are to blame. The problem is that holding former Miaoli County commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻) legally responsible results in numerous difficulties.

The main factor leading to depleted local government finances is clearly related to the county government’s chaotic budgeting of frequent, large events and infrastructure projects. These projects were promoted under the pretext of increasing local prosperity, but the county government’s tax revenue is limited.

There are empty or unused venues everywhere across the nation and glorious — but short — fireworks shows are staged to satisfy the egos of local leaders. However, Miaoli is the epitome of a local government that has taken this frivolous waste of taxpayers’ money to an extreme level.

Unless it can be proved that local government leaders have accepted money and benefits from private sources for personal gain, and there is proof of quid pro quo corruption, there is virtually no way that civil servants can be indicted on bribery charges. If there was corruption, offenders would face sentences of five or more years for using undue influence, according to section 6, article 1, paragraph 4 of the Anti-Corruption Act (貪污治罪條例). This offense can be applied only in situations where regulations were knowingly breached and only if someone has benefited from the action. Therefore, even if the waste of public funds is obvious, all budgets pass through local councils for approval, which makes it difficult to show that the law has been knowingly transgressed.

In addition, external bidding activities in public works projects and events — even if they have no real effect on the local area — result in something being produced, but it is doubtful whether the bid winner can be said to have gained a benefit. If an investigation shows no evidence of profit, those in power can easily escape punishment, as there is no mechanism to penalize officials for undue influence if no one can be shown to have benefited.

Regardless of whether undue influence can be proved, investigators should take the initiative to examine any incidents possibly involving major corruption.

While Liu served as county commissioner and after he stepped down, members of the public frequently reported suspicions of improper behavior by him to the police or accused him of corruption. The investigative authority was the Anti-Corruption Administration. Either it did nothing or it acted slowly. Even if there were politically motivated elements lurking in the background, such lackluster efficiency and attitudes toward investigation are not commendable. If further investigations do not generate evidence and no legal proceedings eventuate, it would be ironic, though not surprising, considering the nation’s large number of agencies set up to fight corruption.

In a situation where it is difficult to expect authorities to carry out investigations into local governments’ financial difficulties, it is only incumbent leaders who can examine the actions of prior administrations or make the details of their external bidding and budgeting practices public. The position of Miaoli County commissioner has long been under the control of one political party, so hoping for such transparency from county leaders is unlikely.This highlights the importance of a change in the ruling party to prevent corruption.