Wed, Aug 23, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Assets report just a Ma makeover

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is scheduled to release a report today that attempts to deal with a particularly thorny issue -- the billions of dollars in assets it gained illegally from the state during its 40 years of one-party rule.

The contents of the report have already been widely leaked and former chairman Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) seems to receive much of the blame for the KMT's supposed financial woes.

This is hardly surprising as the two major figures who preceded Lee, Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), remain above reproach in the eyes of the party and its supporters. The two chairmen since Lee, Lien Chan (連戰) and Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), the instigator of the report, are still high-ranking party members and were never likely to come in for any blame.

Indeed, Lee makes a convenient (and all too obvious) scapegoat for report writers looking to explain away the KMT's stolen assets, thanks to the position he now occupies as party enemy No. 1. The accusations can be viewed as payback for his pro-Taiwan activities as chairman and his role in forming the Taiwan Solidarity Union after he left the KMT on such bad terms.

Now is certainly a good time for the KMT to deal with such a controversial issue -- what with most people's attention focused on the never-ending string of corruption accusations against the president and Shih Ming-teh's (施明德) 15-day-long sit-in campaign set to begin. By releasing the report today, the KMT must be hoping it will avoid the thorough dissecting it deserves by the media.

But the report has been compiled by the KMT and therefore invites skepticism. It will hardly be the confession many in Taiwan await. It may settle the assets issue in the minds of pan-blue supporters, but nothing except a total surrendering of these assets in full to the government will ever satisfy the pan-greens. This is unlikely to happen while the pan-blues maintain the legislative majority that allows them to block legislation dealing with the issue.

As he doesn't hold enough power to conduct proper party reform, the report is basically the latest chapter in Ma's cosmetic reform campaign and the buildup to the launch of his official 2008 presidential campaign.

As part of the preparations for his bid for the nation's top job, Ma has touched upon taboo subjects which previous KMT leaders, except Lee, were too compromised to deal with, such as the "228 Incident." Now Ma is "dealing" with another one -- the party's stolen assets.

This is Ma's "preemptive strike" strategy. When the 2008 election comes around and the Democratic Progressive Party starts bringing up its stock election issues, Ma can stand up and declare confidently that he has already dealt with them.

But the underlying problem still remains -- the fact that the KMT refuses to acknowledge that most of the assets were stolen. It still insists that the majority were obtained legally and those that were stolen have already been disposed of.

But selling land and property and pocketing the proceeds is not an effective way of dealing with the issue; it is profiteering and only leaves the party open to further accusations.

The fact remains that unless an independent evaluation of the KMT's assets is undertaken by a neutral body empowered by the legislature which has full access to historical records -- something that is unlikely to happen in the medium term in Taiwan's partisan political environment -- then the issue of these lost billions will never be brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

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