Thu, Nov 16, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Different rules for different folks

As the old saying goes, "it's easier said than done."

Apologizing for an aide forging receipts to claim mayoral fund expenses, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday said that while he would shoulder formal responsibility for the matter, he would not resign from his post over it.

Both Ma and the Taipei City Government portrayed the event as a mere "administrative flaw."

The mayoral fund case shares a key similarity with the fracas over President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) use of a "state affairs fund" -- in both cases receipts were forged to write off expenditure.

The double standard is brazen. Ma called Chen's behavior "corruption" and demanded the president step down. When caught doing the same thing, he dismisses the case as administrative negligence.

Ma stressed that he had been "executing official duties according to the law" when the expenses were incurred and claimed. But just which law is Ma referring to that obliges government officials to forge receipts?

On several occasions Auditor-General Su Chen-ping (蘇振平) vouched for the Taipei City Government and Ma's handling of the mayoral affairs fund. Now that Ma has admitted that receipts were forged, Su should be held accountable for his previous remarks.

But more appropriately, Su should be subjected to a formal inquiry to determine whether he attempted to cover up for Ma and whether he benefited illegally from the fund himself. There is sufficient prima facie evidence available to demand a probe -- at least as much evidence as was originally available when the pan-blues called for an investigation into Chen's use of the "state affairs fund."

On the legislative floor on Tuesday, a number of pan-blue legislators suggested that Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) ought to follow Democratic Progressive Party legislators Lin Cho-shui (林濁水) and Lee Wen-chung (李文忠) and quit his job in protest at the president's handling of the "state affairs fund."

Now with Ma's integrity also in question, surely those same pan-blue legislators will follow their own advice and quit their jobs?

The timing of the Taipei City Government's press conference on Tuesday night also raised some eyebrows. The conference came just six hours after Ma was questioned by investigators from the Taipei High Court Anti-Corruption Center. Why did it take so long to own up?

While both the Taipei City Government and Ma yesterday laid blame on one of the mayor's aides for switching receipts, the question needs to be asked: How and why would a civil servant use a fake receipt without authorization from his superior?

Chen at least had the fortitude to openly admit that he authorized others to "switch receipts" to write off expenditure for his secret diplomacy.

The truth of the matter is that both the mayoral expense fund and the "state affairs fund" are indicative of an era when public money was usedwith impunity. The rules governing these funds are out of date in today's democratic environment.

But until the legal structures are fixed, let's hold Ma up to his own standards of morality: Mayor Ma, you were caught with your hand in the cookie jar. Maybe you should consider stepping down.

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