Wed, Dec 23, 2009 - Page 8 News List

PERCing and choosing at the GIO

By Celia Llopis-jepsen 游思麗

This government is fond of quoting the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC). The question is whether it is misrepresenting PERC’s research.

Government Information Office Minister Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓), in his response to a Nov. 14 open letter from academics and other concerned voices abroad, sought to deflect allegations of political meddling in the trial of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) by citing PERC (“GIO response to Nov. 13 open letter,” Dec. 18, page 8).

Su’s response rebuts various concerns about the state of democracy in Taiwan by citing reports from organizations abroad. Two of these are Freedom House and Transparency International. The third section is subheaded “Political and Economic Risk Consultancy: Taiwan’s judicial system fair, independent.”

PERC’s reports are only available by paid subscription, so the question is whether the Government Information Office is hoping no one will bother to expend resources to check what PERC is actually saying.

In April, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) put on a bit of a show and surprised reporters by presiding over a press conference to say that he was disturbed by a PERC report and was launching a three-month judicial and governmental review on corruption.

“Taiwan’s degree of corruption was unexpectedly worse than that of mainland China,” Ma cited the report as showing, adding that Taiwan’s democratic principles and values had been “tarnished.” He further said this catastrophe was mostly the result of corruption under the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration.

Ma even asked the premier to launch an anti-graft commission and the Ministry of Justice immediately joined the crusade.

No one would argue that graft is not a serious problem in Taiwan, but the sincerity of Ma’s campaign was questionable, particularly considering his focus on the DPP and considering that he misinterpreted the PERC report that had so “distressed” him.

The PERC report did not in fact conclude that corruption was worse in Taiwan than China, nor was it a study focused on corruption in the Chen administration. It focused on perceptions (among businesspeople) of corruption in both the DPP and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) (“Ma interpreted corruption report incorrectly: author,” April 11, page 1).

An embarrassing mistake, to say the least.

Now PERC makes another appearance, this time in Su’s article.

“According to the latest Asian Intelligence report issued on Nov. 4 by the widely respected Hong Kong firm Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, Ltd, it is generally believed that in the Chen Shui-bian case, the court proceedings have been transparent, the evidence against him is convincing and the judiciary has operated independently — not as a political tool of the Kuomintang (KMT),” Su wrote.

“This illustrates the fairness and independence of our judicial system as appraised by international investigative organizations,” he wrote.

What is Su implying with the phrase “it is generally believed?” Believed by whom — the public or judicial observers and other experts abroad? He is conveniently ambiguous.

The “report” Su is referring to is a fortnightly newsletter that summarizes developments in Asian business and politics. The Nov. 4 issue is titled “Dangers involved with ignoring the obvious.”

The four paragraphs devoted to Taiwan are not a study of Taiwan’s judiciary, nor is it logical to conclude that they “illustrate the fairness and independence of our judicial system as appraised by international investigative organizations.”

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