Thu, Aug 17, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Chairman Ma, return the assets

Next Wednesday marks the one year anniversary of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) first year in office. As part of the events marking the occasion, the KMT said it will present a special report outlining the total value of the party's assets and how they have been handled under different chairmen dating back to Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石).

While the KMT's willingness to explain how it has managed its stolen assets is to be applauded, it is hoped that this new-found interest in transparency will not turn into a "bait and switch" game, with the emphasis on finding fault with former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝). Reports in the Chinese-language media, which say that the KMT accumulated NT$50 billion (US$1.53 billion) in debt during Lee's time as party head, suggest this is highly likely.

In 2004, former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) publicly pledged to return the assets the party "acquired" during the authoritarian era and Ma promised to do the same when he ran for party's top office last year. Yet not only has the KMT failed to make good on these pledges, the party has actually moved to accelerate the liquidation of its assets. In turn, this money has disappeared into the bottomless pit of pockets that is the KMT patronage system.

Within one year of Ma's chairmanship, half a dozen key pieces of real estate have been auctioned off: the Institute of Policy Research and Development, the Chunghua Open Hospital, three KMT-owned media outlets and the party's old headquarters on Zhongshan South Road.

These asset sales reaped billions of dollars, and totally ignored the question of how they came to be in the KMT's hands. Where did all the money go, and how does the party continue to plead poverty in the face of such huge injections of capital?

According to the KMT's own twisted logic, most of the assets were obtained "legally," so it is free to do whatever it likes with them. But what was legal during the authoritarian era -- particularly during the height of KMT suppression in the 1950s -- and what is legal in today's democracy is radically different. Talking about "legally obtained" assets during the White Terror period just doesn't make any sense, when the KMT was the ultimate source of authoritarian rule.

Ma talks about "integrity" and "reform" often, and has portrayed himself as above the corrupted politics of the administration of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and the Democratic Progressive Party. Yet how can Ma claim to be clean if he cannot clarify and put right the commercial dealings of his own party?

The KMT amassed a vast empire of banks, investment companies, petrochemical firms and media outlets during its autocratic rule, making it the richest political party in the world at one point. There are few political institutions quite like it in free market economies anywhere on the planet.

Time and again, the stolen assets have been the subject of criticism from the party's political opponents during elections. If the party had faith in the nation's democracy, it would give the assets back to the people to eradicate this potent source of electoral discontent.

Ma has won considerable support for his "clean-cut" image. Next Wednesday provides another opportunity for him to live up to his reputation and prove to the public that the KMT, under his leadership, is actively dealing with the nation's assets that are currently in his hands. The people can only hope the chairman will do the right thing.

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