On Wednesday, the Executive Yuan passed the milestone lobbying bill (
Connections and gifts remain fundamental to people's lives here. While in a social context, such things may at the most create confusion and making things difficult for those who are not accustomed to them, the same may not be said about them in the political context, where such things are little more than bribes and undue influences on the policymaking and legislative process.
On the other hand, political participation is also fundamental to any given democracy. Seeking to get one's view across to the government and to influence officials' decisions is what democracy is all about. Lobbying is the norm in almost any Western democracy. It does not have the kind of negative connotations that is generally generated here as a result of rampant black-gold practices.
The ability to lobby for one's cause is critical. It is true that conglomerates and powerful business interests can, as a result of intensive lobbying activities, enjoy a strong say so in policies and the law. A case in point is the extension of the length of copyrights under US law. The extension was the result of intensive lobbying by major copyright holders, including Disney. However, the upside is that members of minorities or socially disadvantaged groups, whose voices would often be too insignificant to carry any weight individually, can join forces and resources to pursue their causes and interests through government lobbying.
Of course, to prevent abuse and corrupt practices, lobbying activities should be carefully regulated, monitored and made transparent. Taiwan is getting a late start in this respect. For example, in the US, lobbying activities are regulated both at the federal level under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, as well at the state and even the municipal levels.
The lobbying bill specially prohibits individuals, groups, or organizations from China, Hong Kong or Macau from engaging in lobbying here or hiring others to do it. The bill would bar lobbying activities on national defense issues and matters concerning the cross-strait relationship.
Of course, this would not stop individuals or groups that are pro-China from seeking to influence government policies in a way that would be to the interests of Beijing. However, so long as such activities are open and transparent, they will be subject to public scrutiny. This will exert pressure on government officials and lawmakers to keep their priorities straight and not overstep their bounds.
Another potential problem should not be ignored either. Taiwanese simply have a tendency to either ignore or circumvent anti-corruption practices. For example, it is no secret while the law sets a cap on each candidate's campaign fund, very few politicians care enough to comply with it. So, effective enforcement of the bill -- if it is enacted -- will be key to its success.
The government's campaign to enact the remaining five sunshine bills is obviously part of its strategy to create a "reform image" for itself ahead of next year's presidential election. For this reason and also due to the fact that these sunshine bills, especially the ones dealing with ill-gotten assets and properties of political parties and political donations, hit the KMT where it hurts (its wallet), it is doubtful that the bills will be enacted without a lot of resistance.