Tue, May 27, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Tackling corruption starts in the legislature

Tseng Chao-chang 曾肇昌

There have been repeated calls for “sunshine legislation.” However, the draft organic statute for the anti-corruption administration of the Ministry of Justice (法務部廉政署組織條例) has been blocked 165 times in the legislature’s Procedure Committee, the draft amendment to the Public Officials Conflict of Interests Prevention Act (公職人員利益衝突迴避法) has been blocked 24 times and the draft amendment to the Legislators’ Conduct Act (立法委員行為法) has been stalled 15 times.

The legislature is charged with monitoring the government, and such sunshine bills are intended to monitor the legislature. It is regretful that the lawmakers have blocked such legislation.

Elected representatives are responsible for monitoring the government’s performance on behalf of the public, so they should act morally and exercise self-control. This has not been the case. Recent lobbying scandals that led to several lawmakers being indicted — and many narrowly escaping indictment — include the Chinese medicine bribery case, the dental association bribery case and the Rebar Group case.

Eight lawmakers were indicted in the Chinese medicine case although another 24 who received between NT$50,000 and NT$300,000 from herbal medicine dealers were not charged. All these lawmakers had improperly carried out their duties by amending the law for the benefit of a specific group.

Eight lawmakers were indicted for receiving anywhere from NT$500,000 (US$16,400) to more than NT$1 million from the Taiwan Dental Association in return for endorsing the Oral Healthcare Act (口腔健康法) in 2003. Thirty-three others were investigated but not charged because of insufficient evidence.

Twelve lawmakers have been accused of accepting NT$5.6 billion from fugitive tycoon Wang You-theng (王又曾), the founder of the Rebar Group.

Obviously, corruption among lawmakers is a serious problem and efforts must be made to eliminate a conflict of interests.

When Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰) took office on May 20, she vowed that corrupt public servants would be firmly dealt with. This approach should be institutionalized through comprehensive legislation so that civil servants will not be tempted by corruption. The justice ministry should push for the establishment of an anti-corruption administration, which has previously been proposed.

It was suggested that shortening lawmakers’ terms of office so they would not have so much time to promote their own self-interests would lessen the opportunity for corruption. However, legislators’ terms have been extended and their powers increased, which means that their attempts to get elected and re-elected and ensure their estimated “return on investment” is likely to promote vote buying.

But a key job of lawmakers is to monitor government performance, which requires impartiality. To avoid both vote buying and conflicts of interest among lawmakers, Taiwan should begin by shortening legislative terms.

To build a clean government, we have to reform the system. Otherwise, government-business collusion, reckless legislation and vote buying will persist.

Tseng Chao-chang is a lawyer.

Translated by Eddy Chang

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