Wed, Nov 22, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Ma Ying-jeou's 'special wound'

By Chen Chao-chien 陳朝建

Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has long been seen by the public as incorruptible and accusations made against him never stick. But the recently revealed "administrative defect" in the procedure for reporting the special mayoral allowance has come as a shock to the public and has received much media attention.

In addition, it seems to have helped deflect national focus from the controversy over President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) alleged misuse of his special "state affairs fund." This has temporarily given the pan-green camp some respite, while at the same time putting Ma at the center of a new political controversy.

If we take a closer look, the issue at hand is how to add further legal controls to the mayor's "special expense fund," and especially how to strengthen the receipt writeoff procedure. Even if, in this particular case, the untruthful reporting and writeoff of funds did not result in embezzlement, the suspicion of forgery of official documents remains.

The question of whether other administrative officials, such as the "big four" of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) -- Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), DPP Chairman Yu Shyi-kun and DPP Taipei mayoral candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) -- abide by the standards of good governance and avoid administrative negligence should be investigated by prosecutors.

After the scandal surfaced, Su immediately approved more stringent regulations for the "special expense accounts" of officials at all levels beginning next year, requiring that receipts be provided for any writeoff of funds to be approved, even including the Presidential Office's special state affairs fund.

Su's move is surely in line with mainstream public opinion and conforms to the basic principle that legal controls should be strengthened. This is to say that receipt writeoff procedures should strictly abide by the Accounting Act (會計法), the Audit Act (審計法) and the Management Guidelines for the Disposal of Expenditure Vouchers (支出憑證處理要點). This is the way to get to the root of the problem.

However, the "special wound" that the recent scandal has given Ma may not simply be a legal issue concerning flaws in the design of the system. Instead, it is also a political issue between the ruling and opposition parties and even within the pan-blue camp itself.

To begin with, in the run up to the Taipei and Kaohsiung mayoral elections, the impact of Ma's administrative oversight has counterbalanced the influence of the recent corruption and forgery charges in connection with the handling of the Presidential Office's special "state affairs fund." In other words, it serves as an opportunity for the scandal-plagued pan-green camp's candidates to get a boost in the mayoral elections and improves their chances of winning Taipei and retaining Kaohsiung.

From the perspective of moderate and swing voters, there is now almost no distinction between Ma's Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Chen's DPP, which is to say that the number of undecided voters willing to support the blue camp will decrease.

Moreover, even if, despite the political shadow of Ma's problems, the KMT won the Taipei and Kaohsiung mayoral elections, Ma will only be party chairman and have no access to administrative resources after the end of his mayoral term. Even if he were able to win the KMT's nomination to run in the presidential elections, incessant questioning about the special mayoral allowance will hurt his chances of becoming president.

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