Sun, Oct 19, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: The deep wells of black gold

During the past week, the saga of three local politicians has taken over the front pages of virtually all newspapers in Taiwan. This reveals a very distressing fact about Taiwan -- that the "black gold" culture is such an entrenched part of politics that the government's anti-corruption campaign has thus far barely scratched this monstrous creature.

The story of Yen Ching-piao (顏清標) is a classic textbook example of Taiwan's unique political culture. On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that Yen was not guilty of vote buying in an election for Taichung County Council speakership nine years ago.

This story is noteworthy not only because it took almost a decade for the dust to finally settle, but because Yen went on to enjoy a most extraordinary political career during that time.

Yen successfully completed his term as speaker of the Taichung County Council, during which time he was sentenced to a 20-year jail term for attempted murder and illegal possession of fire arms. He is still appealing the verdict and the sentence in that case.

Still, after serving as speaker of the city council, he miraculously managed to conduct an election campaign from his prison cell and get himself elected to the Legislative Yuan.

Yen's success story begs the question: Are honesty and respect for the law actually virtues voters expect of their legislative representatives? In more mature democratic countries, someone like Yen -- whose reputation is tainted by serious allegations of corruption -- would never have been elected to a city council, never mind the legislature.

With the impressive record of Yen in mind, one then begins to understand the supporters of former Kaohsiung City Council speaker Chu An-hsiung (朱安雄), who has recently been found guilty by the district court of vote buying in the city council election.

Chu supporters have repeatedly complained that Chu is being singled out for unfair treatment. They complain that if everyone is doing it, why should Chu be punished? Worse yet, they complain, a guilty verdict less than 10 months after an indictment is at odds with the common expectation: that vote-buying cases usually drag on and on until the public eventually loses interests and the politicians in question quietly walk away scot-free.

Some of Chu's supporters have suggested that, just like Lo Fu-chu (羅福助), Chu is being used by the government of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to showcase success in the crackdown on black gold. If that is the case, so be it -- so long as all future cases are accorded equal, if not tougher, treatment.

However, the disappearance of Chu -- right before he was supposed to begin serving his sentence -- is a serious blow that the Chen government must deal with carefully. In the unlikely event that Chu turns up, he will more than likely come up with some sorry excuses to delay serving his sentence. The prosecutor's office must use this opportunity to break the common conception that the rich and powerful can always get out of serving time, typically by coming up with phoney medical diagnoses of physical or psychological problems.

In the third case, Hualien County Councilor Yang Wen-chi (楊文值) became famous because on Tuesday he had three suspects in a narcotics case taken away in his car while the police were still investigating the case. According to Yang, the three men were injured, so he was only "serving [his] constituents."

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