Sun, Nov 26, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Rethinking the state's `special funds'

By Cheng Yun-peng 鄭運鵬

The indictment of first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) on corruption and forgery charges in connection with the handling of the Presidential Office's "special state affairs fund" has resulted in public suspicion of President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) sincerity and honesty. Similarly, the investigation of Mayor Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) alleged involvement in the forging of receipts to write off his special allowance expenditures has tarnished his anti-corruption credentials.

In response to the Nov. 3 indictment, Chen offered an explanation in a televised speech blaming defective systems -- including the ambiguous regulations for the use of the special state affairs fund as well as frequent changes in the list of eligible writeoff items -- which resulted in confusion in the procedures for reporting the special fund.

The media portrayed Chen's speech as a lesson in sophistry. Conversely, the media painted Ma's alleged use of fake receipts for reimbursement of his expense funds as simply a result of systemic defects.

In fact, the special state affairs fund and the special allowance for government officials are similar in character.

When the president was involved, however, he was accused of corruption -- a clear demonstration that the accusations are ideologically driven. When other officials have similar problems with their special allowance funds, however, this is simply seen as a "bad habit" that should be legally regulated.

Suggestions for legal regulations for the president's "special state affairs fund" and senior officials' special allowance funds were first advanced by lawmakers several years ago.

Year after year, former Taiwan Independence Party legislator Lee Ching-hsiung (李慶雄) held question-and-answer sessions during the annual budget review looking at the corrupt nature of the special allowance funds. Former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Shen Fu-hsiung (沈富雄) proposed that the special state affairs fund and special allowance funds be included in the draft of the statute governing the president's, the vice president's, and special rank officials' pay for duty-related expenses.

However, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government did not accept Shen's proposal and the DPP continued the use of these funds after they came to power. If prosecutors conduct universal investigations on the use of the special allowance funds, it is possible that judges at all levels of the judiciary as well as prosecutors will be caught in the net.

The special state affairs fund is for use by the president for rewards and gifts, while the special allowance funds are for the use of officials from the vice president down to directors of local tax administration offices, elementary school principals and even chief judges at all levels and chief prosecutors.

In government agencies, however, the "general affairs expenses" item includes larger or smaller budget funds for gifts and public relations. This means that with the exception of government officials who are very generous with their public affairs spending, there will be "leftover funds" and those funds will find their way into officials' pockets as part of their salaries.

The special state affairs fund and the special allowance funds are a poisonous remainder of an earlier bureaucratic culture. They were used at events like banquets, weddings and for funeral gifts and special rewards for their personal retinue, amounting to the use of public funds to establish personal relationships, which clearly violates the principles of clean government.

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