The Ministry of Justice announced with great fanfare its latest action plan for fostering clean and honest government. This follows President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) declaration three months ago of his determination to fight corruption, something the public strongly desires. It is worth asking, however, whether the ministry will be able to achieve its goal.
In 2000, the ministry announced a plan for tackling organized crime and corruption. An investigation center targeting organized crime and corruption was set up under the Taiwan High Prosecutors’ Office, with special task forces located at district prosecutors’ offices in Taipei, Banciao, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung. But the institutions had no legal standing, leading to the perception that they were shadowy outfits.
The problem was resolved in 2006, when, in the process of revising the Courts Organization Act (法院組織法), the investigation center of the Taiwan High Prosecutors’ Office became the Special Investigation Division (SID) of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office. This promotion from regional to national level was designed to ensure the independence of the SID, as well as give it permanent status so that it could continue its work of fighting corruption and economic crime, with senior public servants the main target of investigations.
Ministry data show that 10,137 cases of alleged corruption were reported between July 2000 and April this year. Of these, 4,823 cases resulted in the indictment of 13,484 people. A total of NT$32.2 billion (US$970 million) in illicit funds was tracked down. Public servants and elected representatives accounted for 55 percent of the people charged, and 56.2 percent of the indicted were convicted. This means that an average of 45 indictments were filed each month and more than half resulted in convinctions.
From this point of view, the performance of both the former and current governments in tackling corruption seems quite good. However, if we consider that indictments were filed in less than half of reported cases, that only a little more than half of those charged were public officials and that just more than half of those charged were convicted, then the real conviction rate was 30 percent at most. It seems likely that some corrupt officials are still slipping through the net.
Some believe the low conviction rate can be attributed to the many loopholes in the law and the light penalties. In fact, however, Taiwanese law covers many different types of corruption and imposes heavy penalties. Indeed, failure to disclose the source of wealth has been added to the list of offenses classified under corruption. These things considered, poor performance in fighting corruption can hardly be blamed on flaws in legislation.
The main reason for this low conviction rate is the difficulty of establishing a quid pro quo connection — that is, proving that a favor or service provided by the accused was given in return for a payment or other gift.
An example is the recent not guilty verdict rendered in the case of former minister of transportation and communications Kuo Yao-chi (郭瑤琪). Kuo received a payment of US$20,000 during her tenure that was allegedly a bribe from a company that hoped to win a tender for refurbishment of facilities at Taipei Railway Station.
However, the court took into consideration the fact that Kuo was not in charge of the tender and deemed that her seniority alone was not proof of a quid pro quo connection between the payment received and the service provided. Based on the cardinal principle that in case of doubt, the court shall decide in favor of the accused, Kuo was found not guilty. The outcome is very different from what the majority of the public expected.