Former first lady Wu Shu-jen’s (吳淑珍) decision to hand prosecutors a list of names of businesspeople who allegedly gave money to former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) caused a sensation on Wednesday when the Chinese-language Next Magazine published what it said were the contents of the list.
The list reproduced by the magazine details alleged payments totaling NT$1.21 billion (US$35 million), and reads like a who’s who of the Taiwanese business world. If true, it would represent further evidence — if any were needed — of the murky relationship between business and politics in Taiwan and the need for further reform of the political system.
It is hard to assess the motives behind Wu’s move, but the apparent benefits are twofold. By cooperating with prosecutors she may be hoping that members of her family would receive lighter sentences if they were to be found guilty of receiving bribes.
On the other hand, the insinuation that it is extremely common for businesspeople of any political hue to donate money to whoever is in power and the probability that she and her husband are not the only ones to have taken cash in the past may be an attempt to soften public opinion on their alleged crimes.
The latter has already seen some success, for while Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co chairman Morris Chang (張忠謀) denied the content of Next Magazine’s report, he did admit in his statement to giving NT$203 million to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and NT$120 million to the Democratic Progressive Party between 2000 and 2004 to “support the development” of Taiwan’s democracy.
How many others on the list will see fit to reveal details of their past donations?
While the publication of the list may cause much initial consternation, it will be interesting to see if there are substantial repercussions.
When allegations of abuse of his “special mayoral allowance” were first made against then Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in 2006, there was outrage at first, followed by endless discussion of how to remedy a “broken” system that allowed government officials to use such money as extra income. But in the end, after Ma was found not guilty, nothing was done and it was business as usual. The allowance system remained intact.
This latest episode in the Chen saga and any future revelations are certain to cause a similar uproar on certain cable TV talk shows and fuel heated discussion on how to root out systemic corruption.
But all the hot air in the world is of no use when the political will to reform does not exist. The KMT has been in power for more than nine months and holds a super-majority in the legislature, but we have yet to see any progress on the passage of outstanding corruption-busting “sunshine laws.”
With all its political power, the KMT could completely overhaul existing legislation and pass new anti-corruption laws that could effectively sever the link between business and politics by formulating new ways for parties and politicians to raise campaign funds.
In the current climate the public would be in full support of such a move, and what better way for the KMT to finally convince its many critics that it is serious on clean politics and reform.