Fri, Aug 03, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Leading by example -- or lack of it

The Taipei District Court's verdict in the embezzlement trial of former Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is expected on Aug. 14. Whether or not the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) presidential candidate is found guilty is beside the point now, because his remarks and conduct during his trial have shed enough light on his personality and integrity for the public to decide whether he is fit to govern the country.

Before the prosecutors indicted him on Feb. 13 for embezzling NT$11 million (US$333,000) from his special mayoral allowance during his terms as Taipei mayor, Ma repeatedly said that the special allowance was for work-related expenditures and that he had spent it on work-related affairs or used it to make donations to charities. He acknowledged he fully understood how the allowance should be used.

"I did it all according to the law," Ma said at the time. "I am scrupulous in separating public matters from private matters."

But once the case entered the courtroom, Ma appeared to change his tune. He told the court that it was his understanding that the special mayoral allowance was for the mayor's private use.

Does he really believe people forget so easily?

After the final court hearing on Monday, Ma again proclaimed his innocence, but said that he had not understood the legalities of the special mayoral allowance because its guidelines were promulgated in 1952, implying that he was only two years old at the time.

What an original defense. It goes a long way in explaining why Ma has never passed a bar exam -- there are, after all, so many laws that were written and enacted before he was born or when he was a child.

If Ma's argument stands, then perhaps many people now serving time should be freed since many parts of the Criminal Code were promulgated in 1935, long before these offenders were born -- or even their parents.

It is probably a good thing that Ma was elected KMT chairman in 2005 so that he could offer the public a true test of his leadership abilities for them to scrutinize before elevating him to the Presidential Office.

And although Ma has often portrayed himself as a party reformer, he proved a major disappointment to those who had pinned their hopes on him to get the party to turn over a new leaf. During his brief stint as chairman, Ma not only failed to erase the party's "black gold" reputation by returning the party's stolen assets, the KMT sold several companies and pieces of property for more than NT$14 billion.

Instead of raising the party's standards, he agreed to the amendment of its "black gold" exclusion clause so he could still run for president even if found guilty of corruption in his first trial. The clause, which barred KMT members indicted for crimes from running for office, now only applies to indicted members who have lost their final court appeal.

"Nothing so conclusively proves a man's ability to lead others as what he does from day to day to lead himself," IBM founder Thomas John Watson once said.

By this standard, Ma has shown himself not only unable to govern himself and his party but also hardly to be the "Mr Clean" so many people would like to lead the country.

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