Fri, Jul 13, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Sending out the nation's very best

Recent and upcoming trips by legislators to review military facilities overseas have stirred up controversy over suspicions that the Ministry of National Defense may be helping to pay for the trips. Furthermore, some legislators prohibited from leaving the country because of personal legal woes have used their official status to obtain travel exemptions. Implicated legislators in both camps have denied wrongdoing, but the exposure should raise questions about the quality of the legislative envoys the nation is sending abroad.

People First Party Legislator Fu Kun-chih (傅崑萁) led a group of six lawmakers to Japan in February to meet Japanese national defense experts and lawmakers. Fu is currently under investigation for violating the Securities and Exchange Law (證券交易法). He has blamed his problems on alleged persecution by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government.

Twenty-four legislators have registered for another trip next month organized by the legislature's National Defense Committee to inspect submarines in the US. Indicted DPP Legislator Peter Lin (林進興), who was barred from leaving the country to join the Japan trip and one to Thailand last month, is hoping to lead the delegation.

On Wednesday, legislators received a letter from the committee inviting them on a trip to visit military installations in Singapore and Vietnam from July 30, which would also include talks with Taiwanese business leaders in Vietnam.

The ongoing controversy stems from whether or not the legislators have actually paid for the trips completely out of their pockets -- as they claim -- and whether or not the defense ministry and the National Defense Committee have pulled strings to have the travel restrictions lifted. Neither of these allegations, if they turn out to be true, would be terribly surprising, but as yet no concrete evidence has emerged. Legislators and defense officials, meanwhile, have denied any impropriety.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Liou Wan-ju (廖婉汝), who initiated the trip to Singapore and Vietnam, insists that the defense ministry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have done nothing more than organize the trips for the legislators.

But other important questions need to be asked. Considering the gross inefficiency of the legislature, should legislators be spending so much time and energy abroad? Wouldn't real military experts be better qualified to inspect military hardware? What do visiting Japanese hot springs and business leaders in Vietnam have to do with boosting national defense capabilities?

More likely, these trips are just an excuse for legally troubled legislators to get a reprieve away from home -- possibly at a discount rate.

In so doing, the nation is sending an embarrassing message to the rest of the world, as its emissaries are either under criminal investigation back home or cannot be bothered to take their responsibilities seriously.

On Tuesday, DPP Legislator Tsai Chi-fang (蔡啟芳) said tongue-in-cheek that he was not sure if the US would give him a visa as it may consider him prone to violence. One of the reasons he applied to join the trip, therefore, was to see if the US had dropped its restrictions against him.

It is regrettable that the nation would send such a cast of characters as its "national defense" representatives around the world. Adding insult to injury, it is pan-blue legislators, those who have done so much to prevent the nation from upgrading its defense in the face of Chinese threats, that are now shameless enough to trot around the globe under the guise of protecting the nation.

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