Wed, Nov 03, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Time to demand accountability

"Taiwan has plenty of rumors, but no evidence" is the impression of many people at present. Ever since the nation's first transfer of power took place in 2000 many people and institutions -- from party leaders and legislators to the media and academics -- have repeatedly abused their freedom of speech. Irresponsible attacks have been made in words and in writing, without any evidence to back up the accusations. As a result, the honesty, credibility and morality of Taiwan's politicians have been repeatedly questioned, while the dignity of our judicial system has also been knocked to the ground.

After the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lost the 2000 election, former New Party legislator Hsieh

Chi-ta (謝啟大) accused then first lady Tseng Wen-hui (曾文惠) of attempting to flee to New York with US$85 million in cash. That accusation opened a Pandora's Box of mudslinging, with daily refinements in the art of defamation.

More recent examples include: Independent Legislator Sisy Chen (陳文茜) claiming that a nurse at the Chi Mei Medical Center told her that the shooting of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) had been faked, and that the CIA had satellite photos of the making of the president's spurious wound. Former KMT spokesman Justin Chou (周守訓) accused the president of ordering the military to make artificial rain to hamper large-scale demonstrations by the blue camp that followed the election. A fellow of the Academia Sinica came up with a theory that supposedly proved that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) cheated during the election. Another fellow published a book arguing that the assassination attempt had been staged.

But it is not always the president who is the target of such nonsense. For example, independent Legislator Su Ying-kuei (蘇盈貴) accused the president of ordering two members of the Council of Grand Justices to "persuade" him in regard to the March 19 Truth Committee -- though Su has not named names. People First Party (PFP) caucus whip Liu Wen-hsiung (劉文雄) and PFP Legislator Tsai Chung-han (蔡中涵) accused Chen Shui-bian of sexually harassing former Panamanian president Mireya Moscoso and then paying US$1 million to settle the matter. Democracy Advancement Alliance convener Hsieh Ta-ning (謝大寧) claims the Ministry of Defense paid off legislators to support the NT$610.8 billion arms budget, but the alliance has refused to identify its eyewitness prior to examination by the courts.

One thing that all these accusations have in common is that no evidence has been produced to substantiate any of the claims. Some of the people involved have already changed their stories in the face of media questions. But even when the accusers are shown to have been confused about their information, they have stoutly refused to admit to any error or to apologize to their victims.

Such accusations should not be made without a thorough investigation beforehand. It is hard to believe that politicians and academics have so little regard for the public that they expect to be able to bamboozle them for political rewards. The history of Taiwan's elections shows that voters see perfectly clearly, and that politicians and political parties that cannot be trusted will eventually be rejected by the people.

It is time to hold people accountable for what they say. When irresponsible claims are made, reporters and voters alike should be quick to demand accountability. People and institutions should not be able to hide their lies behind the protection afforded by the right of free speech. If such accountability is not forthcoming, the people should use their votes to throw out these irresponsible politicians and the candidates supported by grandstanding academics who appear to have lost any sense of moral compass.

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