Mon, May 05, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Time to let sunlight enter the legislature

By Ku Chung-hwa 顧忠華

On April 25, the legislature passed the third reading of the amendments to articles 70 and 71 of the Law Governing the Legislative Yuan’s Power (立法院職權行使法), replacing closed-door negotiations with an open negotiation system under which all negotiations must be audio and video-taped and published in the legislative bulletin. The period for party consultations was also shortened from four months to one.

I have reservations about this reform. As the old saying goes, “As virtue rises one foot, vice rises 10.” People who want to benefit from negotiations can still create other channels in another dark corner where they can continue their horse trading. Others say the shortening of the consultation period will make it more difficult for the opposition to obstruct legal bills.

No system is perfect. As Mencius (Mengzi, 孟子) said: “The mere law does not implement itself.” Although we have laws, legislators have to exercise self-discipline and not avoid clearly stipulated standards for behavior. Only then will legislative reform manage to raise virtue while reducing vice.

I am glad to see a ray of sunshine enter the legislature. The passage of the amendments also shows that the legislature is responding to the tremendous pressure from the public. The halving of the number of seats and the dominant position of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) offers a window of opportunity. The legislature should continue to push through sunshine bills in order to eliminate all objectionable practices.

I also hope that the legislature will review the bills proposed by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The KMT should not act selfishly by passing its own drafts while blocking the DPP from initiating legislative reform.

The legislature has canceled meetings four times this session because lawmakers had no bills to review, a waste of public funds. Why couldn’t they review and pass more sunshine bills?

Bringing sunshine into the legislature can make Taiwan’s representative politics much healthier. More than 90 lawmakers have already signed a commitment drawn up by Citizen Congress Watch. The most crucial point deals with the transparency of the legislative agenda.

Live broadcasts of all interpellation sessions should be available online so the public can be aware of lawmakers’ performance at all times. This is common in many other countries.

Unfortunately, the legislature is closed and is unwilling to fulfill people’s right to know. Citizen Congress Watch has been unable to obtain details about secret meetings from the legislature’s Web site and has even been named an unwelcome group by the Transportation Committee because of some statistical errors caused by such insufficiency.

This is a result of the long standing lack of transparency in the legislature that hinders not only transparency into the legislative agenda but also blocks public monitoring.

After seeing the first ray of sunshine, the curtains should be fully drawn back and the legislature should be bathed in sunlight as soon as possible so that Taiwan’s legislative culture can get on the right track.

Ku Chung-hwa is chairman of Citizen Congress Watch.

Translated by Eddy Chang

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