Fri, Jun 09, 2000 - Page 12 News List

Editorial: A battle of wills over the MIJB

The new Justice Minister Chen Ding-nan (陳定南), who has been given the responsibility of getting rid of "black-gold" politics, has run into a war of words with Wang Kuang-ru (王光宇), head of the ministry's Investigation Bureau (MJIB). Even though Premier Tang Fei (唐飛) came out to ease the "disharmony between ministries and bureaus," the two were still unwilling to shake hands in front of legislators and the media. The standoff has cast a pall over the prospects of the new government's crackdown on crime.

The justice ministry is one of the Investigation Bureau's supervisors, but not its real boss. Much of the MJIB's work is supervised by the National Security Bureau (NSB), while the portion of work that is key to the ministry -- cracking down on corruption, drugs and economic crimes -- is done by makeshift groups. Even though the MJIB's budget is listed under the justice ministry, the NSB has an even larger secret budget for it. In terms of money and power, the NSB looks more like the bureau's boss than the ministry.

In the past, poking their noses in the MJIB's affairs had caused the downfall of justice ministers -- the bureau's administrative superiors. Remember Hsiao Teng-tzang (蕭天讚) and Liao Cheng-hao (廖正豪)? Now many are pessimistic about Chen's future.

Chen is a stubborn, idiosyncratic politician. As long as he believes he is in the right, he moves ahead without worrying about hurting other's feelings. That is one reason he has such strong public support for his crackdown on crime.

But now Chen seems to have stepped into the frying pan. Shaking up the investigative mechanism, fussing over the difficulties of directing the MJIB, tightening up the management of detention centers, all mean Chen has kept the people in the various agencies under him biting their nails. Their reluctance to support the new minister's policies have made Chen very much the Lone Ranger in the ministry. He only has public opinion and support to fall back on.

Sensing the hostility of Taiwan's intelligence agencies to him, Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has adopted a soft approach since his inauguration. To win the MJIB's support, he has promised to raise the bureau's status to Cabinet-level. He has kept silent about the brawl between the justice ministry and the bureau, triggering speculation that he is just waiting for the right time to make his move. Others, however, think the president may have become less willing to risk the ill will of the intelligence agencies now that he has tasted the power of access to intelligence information.

We hope the latter will not turn out to be true. Chen Shui-bian, like many other Taiwanese, suffered under the "White Terror" inflicted by intelligence agencies. When he was a legislator, Chen had many proposals about ways to reform Taiwan's intelligence system. Now that he is in power, he should formulate a policy for these units that is different from his predecessors.

The problem with the MJIB lies not in its status, but in its ill-defined responsibilities and powers. Separating intelligence and law-enforcement work -- putting political surveillance personnel under the National Security Bureau and turning the MJIB into a specialized anti-crime agency -- will be the beginning of a more rational system.

The MJIB has operated in a highly centralized chain of command. All investigators have to seek approval of their every step from headquarters. Accusations that prosecutors have had difficulties directing MJIB personnel or that the bureau has "killed" cases are no surprise.

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