Sat, Dec 24, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Wu debacle highlights the need for legal reform

By Tseng Chag-chang (曾聲昌)

Taitung County Commissioner Wu Chun-li's (吳俊立) suspension from his post immediately after taking office was unprecedented, and we should study the details of the case from a legal perspective.

Wu was charged with corruption while serving as a Taitung County councilor. In 2000, the Taitung District Court sentenced him to 16 years in prison. According to Article 34 of the Public Officials Election and Recall Law (公職人員選舉罷免法), any government official convicted of corruption may not run for public office.

Therefore, when an official has not yet been convicted of corruption, the presumption of innocence applies, and he or she is still allowed to run in elections.

According to Item 1 of Article 78 of the Law on Local Government Systems (地方制度法), elected officials in local government convicted of corruption at the local district court level and given a prison sentence must immediately be dismissed from office. Therefore, the Ministry of Interior has claimed that since Wu was suspended from his post immediately after assuming office, he will not be able to appoint any deputies.

In other words, the moment Wu was sworn in, the ministry suspended him from his post, exhibiting tremendous administrative efficiency. This has only reminded us of the embarrassing case of the first Hsinchu Mayor Shih Hsing-chung (施性忠), who was dismissed from his position 24 hours after he took office.

According to Item 3 of Article 78 of the Law on Local Government Systems, Item 1 of Article 78 is no longer applicable to those who are suspended from their positions if they take office as a result of winning a by-election. Therefore, if Wu offers to resign from his post and wins a by-election, he will be free to serve in office for his elected term.

Clearly the law is somewhat contradictory. In fact, Item 1 of Article 78 of the law also stipulates that anyone who has violated the Statute for the Punishment of Corruption (貪污治罪條例) and anyone who has a record of misconduct will be suspended from his or her post in order to maintain the high moral standards of public servants and prevent them from committing further crimes. It's questionable whether, by winning a by-election, the official is freed from the restrictions of the law and has not obligation to step down.

In fact, Wu was charged with corruption while serving as the Taitung County councilor rather than as county commissioner -- the position he can no longer hold. Clearly we must give some consideration to the items relating to the dismissal of officials under the Law on Local Government Systems. In the same way, the Election and Recall Law allows those convicted of corruption to stand for election, but does not allow them to take up the post to which they are elected. This clearly violates the principle of the presumption of innocence. This issue must be given further consideration in the legislature.

Tseng Chao-chang is a former chairman of the National Taiwanese Bar Association.

TRANSLATED BY DANIEL CHENG

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