Fri, Feb 01, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Something rotten in the legislature

The indictment of eight former and incumbent legislators on Tuesday on charges of accepting bribes from the Taiwan Dental Association has once again brought the murky goings on of the political world into the spotlight.

The accused were indicted for receiving various amounts of cash from the association between 2002 and 2003 in return for backing an oral healthcare act which allowed dentists to receive cash from the National Health Insurance.

One of those indicted, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯), has cried foul, claiming bias by prosecutors after they decided not to charge 33 other suspects in the case.

But Tsai's accusations of bias is not the issue; it is the ambiguous distinction between a "bribe" and a "donation" that is the problem. In the eyes of the law, the only difference between a bribe and a donation is the amount involved -- sums under NT$300,000 (US$9,300) are classified as donations.

Another, more worrying aspect, is that it allows lawmakers to openly receive large amounts of cash from people looking to further their own interests.

The dental association case is startlingly similar to that of the National Chinese Herbal Apothecary Association in which eight legislators were indicted earlier this month for allegedly accepting bribes in return for their support for an amendment to a law that restored an association member's right to fill out medical prescriptions.

These events took place in 1997, yet they were not investigated until Chinese-language Next magazine brought them to light in January last year.

Hopefully, the passage of the Political Donations Law in 2004 and the Lobby Law, which comes into effect in August, will help curb such behavior. But in the meantime it would be interesting to know how many other cases of this nature have occurred in the intervening years and how much money has been used to grease the palms of corrupt lawmakers. No wonder the reputation of legislators remains among the lowest of the low.

Since it gained a huge majority in the legislative elections earlier this month, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has been busy assuaging public concern, saying it will run a "clean legislature," prioritize proposed amendments to the Political Donations Law and adhere to a "clean politics agreement" that advocates strict adherence to the existing "sunshine laws."

KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has also vowed, if elected, to "eliminate" corruption by setting up committees to oversee the Cabinet and local governments as well as implementing heavier punishments for malfeasance.

But the public should not forget this is the same party that during the last legislature doggedly refused to pass nine DPP-backed sunshine bills that are more comprehensive and stricter in nature.

Whether the new legislature, with one party holding such a dominant position and its continued lack of real transparency and oversight, will fulfill its promises on corruption remains to be seen. Until the public sees concrete action taken to tackle corruption and amend the laws that more or less make bribes legal, then all the vows and promises in the world will not help to convince anyone that things will ever change.

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