Pushing for transparency and accountability in the legislature is a slow process riddled with frustrations, as Citizen Congress Watch knows all too well.
On the first day of online access to the legislature’s video-on-demand system on Friday, the camera was aimed away from a ruckus on the legislative floor and the sound was muted in what seemed like a bad joke. The punchline? Public access to a video feed that is intended to pressure lawmakers into improving their performance will be censored so that they can continue their buffoonery.
Democratic Progressive Party legislators were blocking Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) from presenting an administrative report, while Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators surrounded Liu to shield him. It was the kind of scene that has embarrassed Taiwan too often and cast doubt on the professionalism of its lawmakers.
Citizen Congress Watch had long campaigned for full public access to the legislature’s video feed, which could previously only be viewed in the legislative building. On Friday, it held a ceremony at the legislature to thank those lawmakers whose support made the online live feed and video archive possible.
But from the system’s first day, the group began receiving complaints about the footage being censored, after which it emerged that such scenes will continue to be blocked.
The legislature defended its decision, which the Information Technology Department said had been reached by lawmakers across party lines. The reason for the censorship? To protect the legislature’s image, the department said. The legislature is evidently fully aware that its occasional scuffles warrant disdain.
Citizen Congress Watch said it had known that censorship could take place, as some legislators had opposed online access to the video feed unless controversial scenes were blocked. The outcry in response to the missing scenes heartened the civic group, however, as it hopes public pressure will force the Legislative Yuan to take the next step: uncensored footage.
That some legislators think controversial events should be withheld from the public reflects an undemocratic attitude that is incompatible with holding an elected office. These lawmakers should come forth and explain why the public is not entitled to see them at their worst. Whether legislators are reviewing a bill or throwing shoes and pulling hair, they are doing so on public time and taxpayers are footing the bill.
Despite rhetoric from the two main caucuses about the need to deepen the nation’s democracy and transparency, it seems many lawmakers remain determined not to have their performance scrutinized. That is a lesson Citizen Congress Watch has learned the hard way.
Earlier this month, the group’s executive director, Ho Tsung-hsun (何宗勳), was questioned by prosecutors in a lawsuit filed by KMT Legislator Tsai Chin-lung (蔡錦隆). After Tsai received poor marks in the civic group’s assessment of legislators last August, he accused Ho and the group’s chairman, Ku Chung-hwa (顧忠華), of slander. Ho and Ku have also been sued by KMT legislators Chen Ken-te (陳根德) and Chiu Yi (邱毅), while KMT Legislator Chung Shao-ho (鍾紹和) said he would seek to have the group banned from the legislature. Chiu later withdrew his lawsuit, while Chen’s lawsuit was unsuccessful.
Citizen Congress Watch’s efforts to demand professionalism, competence, accountability and transparency from the legislature are to be applauded. That some lawmakers so vehemently oppose its work proves the need for these efforts.