Mon, Jul 21, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: When foxes rule the henhouse

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is a useful piece of folk wisdom. But in Kaohsiung we are instead seeing the reverse; in some important respects the nation's political system is very broken indeed and there seems to be almost no way to fix it.

Last week we were treated to the far from edifying sight of a bunch of criminals openly flaunting their criminality and giving both the legal authorities and us, their prey, the finger. We speak, of course, about the Kaohsiung City Council.

This bunch of bribe givers and takers has been summoned to appear in court to answer charges related to the corruption case surrounding the election of Council Speaker Chu An-hsiung (朱安雄) last December. However, by law, an elected official has immunity from all prosecution while the body to which he is elected is in session. In order, therefore, to avoid answering to their crimes -- and there is overwhelming evidence of the accused's criminality -- the Kaohsiung City Council, which is supposed to be in summer recess, has called a special session, thereby frustrating all attempts to bring its erring members to justice. What a travesty.

There is little new in this situation of course. There used to be a time when swindlers sought to buy their way into the legislature to provide themselves with immunity from arrest for three years. When the law was changed to grant immunity only when the chamber was in session there would be a mass departure of the chamber's shadier elements the week before it went into recess for safe havens overseas, only to return once the chamber was open for business once more.

Luckily, the electoral problems of the KMT have resulted in a diminution of crooks at the national level, but they still seem to rule the roost in local politics -- certainly, at least, in Kaohsiung.

The Kaohsiung scandal is remarkable for a number of things. First is the number of people involved: 34 of the 44 councilors, or 78 percent of the elected body. Then there is the blatancy with which the vote buying was done. Worst of all, however, has been the lack of any means to remove these crooks from office. They cannot be recalled and they use the privileges of office to thumb their noses at the law. The situation is preposterous.

What baffles us is why nobody seems to want to do anything about this. The government is interested in pushing for a referendum, be it legally sanctioned or otherwise on the abstruse issue of downsizing the legislature, but seems not to want to ask the public what to do about the privileges of elected officials to flout the law. If we are to have a referendum thereby assaying public opinion and using that to effect change on any aspect of our representative democracy then the legal immunity granted to elected officials would be the topic of choice.

There is no reason in a country bound by the rule of law where elected officials should have any legal immunity for anything at all bar defamation, and then only for comments made in the assembly itself to which they are elected.

Failing government action on this we can only suggest that the citizens of Kaohsiung suffer no longer. Their aim should be to get these rascals out, by fair means or, if those fail, by foul if necessary. Mass demonstrations in the style of Hong Kong demanding the councilors abide by the law would be a good start. A deadline would be the next step. And if the councilors still want to thumb their nose at the law and the people that elected them, storming the council chamber and dragging this scum into the courtroom by their hair would be a final step which we could only applaud.

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