Sun, Feb 03, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Who's up for legislative reform?

The new legislature has reported for work and will face high public expectations. Both major parties have pledged to work for legislative reforms and sunshine legislation, but how much effort they put toward such reforms remains to be seen.

Citizen Congress Watch (公民監督立委聯盟) has launched a signature drive for legislative reform, obtaining the signatures of 47 legislators.

Fifty-three of 81 Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators chose not to sign and they were joined by eight of 27 Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators. The five legislators that are members of neither the KMT nor the DPP also refused to sign. Despite many new faces in the legislature, outdated ideas still seem to dominate.

Last week, the State Public Prosecutor General's Office under the Supreme Court (最高檢察署) charged eight legislators with accepting bribes from the Taiwan Dental Association (中華民國牙醫師公會全國聯合會). While all eight cried foul, this is not an unfamiliar situation: Last month, eight legislators were charged with accepting bribes from the National Chinese Herbal Apothecary Association (中藥商公會聯合會).

These cases are probably only the tip of the iceberg. The legislative profession is an occupation that offers access to diversified sources of income and high rewards.

Legislators often interact with interest groups in their legislative interpellations, when co-signing bills, making statements or blocking legislative bills. As long as the relationship is based on common ideals, this may not be an issue, but when money is involved -- whether in the form of political donations, campaign donations, activity sponsorships or administrative fees for assistants, offices or transportation -- there is a high risk of corruption.

If we don't regulate lobbying activities and political donations from interest groups, financially disadvantaged groups will find it difficult to make themselves heard. As the system stands, it is difficult to prevent wealthy interest groups from using money to dictate legislation to legislators -- or to block bills. The legislature therefore leans toward the interests of wealthy and influential groups instead of dealing with issues of social justice.

Legislators shouldn't pass the buck if regulations for donations to lawmakers are unclear, as they have intentionally ignored the issue.

Legislation that would clarify acceptable forms of lobbying and its relationship with political donations never makes it to the legislative floor because legislators feel that ambiguity facilitates lobbying. When indicted for corruption, ambiguous legislation is a lawmaker's best friend.

With the number of legislative seats cut by half, individual legislators have more influence over committees and the Cabinet and can exert more pressure on ministries. With new powers come new responsibilities, however. Without moral and behavioral guidelines concerning these new duties, intentional or unintentional violations of the law by legislators will continue.

The legislature's first task should be to eliminate these ambiguities. With clear rules, honest legislators can concentrate on their jobs, knowing where their actions stand legally. Corrupt legislators will also have a hard time getting off the hook.

Party caucuses should put this issue at the top of their list of priorities, and they should push to pass such regulations prior to the presidential election on March 22.

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