Tue, May 09, 2000 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Thankfully, this is about to change

The outrageous escape from the Taichung Detention Center has certainly provided the most riveting story of recent days. Most alarming for most people is the ease with which the two men escaped: the idea that so many criminals might be guarded so loosely is bound to send shivers through any society.

Prisons perform many functions, but perhaps the most fundamental is the containment of dangerous elements, to prevent them from repeating their crimes, or from taking revenge on those who put a stop to them. With the revelation that a mere three guards were responsible for supervising a facility of over 2,000 inmates, and that their physical security equipment is obviously inadequate to compensate, this basic function must now be called into question.

It is obvious that a complete reexamination of all the penal facilities in the country is urgently required. It is entirely likely that the Taichung Detention Center is not the only prison that falls well short of standards. A program will be required to overhaul deficiencies of equipment, staffing, and training, and it will need to be backed up by a greatly strengthened mechanism for ongoing supervision.

It is normal that such a case would cause the downfall of the Minister of Justice. Felicitously, that will not be necessary in the present case, since there are only 10 days left in the incumbent minister's term. Even better, whereas in the past frequent Cabinet reshuffles usually produced only cosmetic change, we now have the prospect of a genuine house-cleaning.

Perhaps it would be unfair to add expectations of prison reform on incoming minister Chen Ting-n(陳定南). After all, he has an extremely long list of "priority" projects already crowding his agenda, any one of which would be a daunting task.

But if anything good comes from the debacle in Taichung, it may well be a final parting kick at the old way of doing things. By graphically reinforcing in the public mind the need for real change in the ministry, this incident may give Chen a helpful boost. In which case, not a moment too soon.

What about reform of the DPP?

That the KMT must reform has been taken by everybody as obvious, that the DPP might need reform much less so. On Sunday, however, DPP heavyweight Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) put forward a radical proposal for changing the makeup of the DPP's Central Standing Committee (CSC). Chiou suggested that the CSC should be increased in size and should consist of the DPP's elected representatives or officials -- legislators, county chiefs and the like. Chiou wants the CSC to become a "negotiating center," basically a place where the various, sometimes competing, interests of those DPP members holding power at various levels can be squared away to present a unified and coordinated party policy.

Chiou's suggestion makes perfect sense but it seems unlikely to come about for the very reason that it is so badly needed.

The DPP's problem has always been its factionalism -- itself a result of the party's origins as a "big tent" including almost everybody opposed to the KMT whatever their other ideological dissimilarities -- and the CSC has traditionally been the place where these factions competed against each other to set party policy. The result has often been paralysis in policy formation because of the impossibility of getting a consensus between widely disparate elements. Now Chiou wants to use this arena for real politics rather than factional bickering.

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