Sat, Aug 27, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: What happened to the rule of law?

It is an affront to both the rule of law and basic property rights that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has apparently been allowed to sell the building housing the Institute on Policy Research and Development and its land for NT$4.3 billion (US$133 million). The property is part of the huge pile of assets the KMT acquired through theft during its 50 years in power and something should be done to contest the party's right to dispose of it.

Much of the KMT's portfolio of theft-acquired riches was laundered during the 1990s through the stock market. Nevertheless, a Control Yuan investigation which reported in 2002 found more than 400 properties the party had acquired illegally and still retained, the vast majority of which it retains to this day, despite frequent claims that it is trying to clean up its act -- probably the reason, by the way, that the pan-blue camp refuses to let Control Yuan vacancies be filled with anyone other than their cronies, who will not look further into the KMT's kleptocratic history.

The DPP has constantly said that it is important to pass the draft law on improperly acquired party assets to strip the KMT of its ill-gotten gains. But since the DPP does not control the legislature this is not going to happen while this legislature sits, which gives KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) until January 2008 to sell off what he can. Given this situation, Cabinet spokesman Cho Jung-tai's (卓榮泰) remarks that, faced with this latest outrage, the government would ask the legislature to hurry up with a bill it has no intention of passing, seems disingenuous to say the least.

It is tempting to ask why this bill needs to be passed. After all, if the Control Yuan can determine that the properties have been illegally acquired then we would expect the courts to be able to do the same thing. If so, how can it be legal to sell such property? Does the legal system lack the necessary provisions to stop somebody selling something that they have acquired through unauthorized transfer, intimidation or simple theft?

Suppose a man buys a car, registers it in his brother's name then find that the brother has sold the car and pocketed the proceeds. There is a prima facie case to be made here, which would surely depend on establishing who paid for the car and what arrangement was made concerning the registration. The car buyer might or might not win his case, but he could at least contest it in court.

It is perplexing that in the current case no legal action has been taken to stop the sale until questions about ownership has been resolved by the court. From a political point of view, even were such a case to fail, it could hardly do the government any harm. Court hearings would draw attention to the extent of the KMT's plunder of Taiwan and the verdict would show how intolerable these thieves' impunity is.

The government may wish to defend itself by saying that the legal basis for such a case does not exist. If so, then it might as well admit that security of property, an absolute prerequisite for a free-market economy, is a joke. It sends out the message: Don't invest in Taiwan because your property can be stolen and you will have no redress.

If some form of legal challenge can be made, then why hasn't it been? If, in fact, it can't be made, then the idea of Taiwan as governed by the rule of law is a joke since that law is utterly inadequate to ensure basic rights. And if the law is a joke -- as the KMT, in fact, has said that it is -- then Taiwanese, increasingly frustrated by the KMT's impunity, might start to wonder if they should take the law into their own hands.

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