Wed, Jan 19, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Ma’s swift response to Lei recalls a bygone era

By Shu Chin-chiang 蘇進強

General Lei Yu-chi (雷玉其) was demoted to the post of deputy chief of the General Staff in charge of Air Force affairs for misuse of public resources after he enlisted the help of military personnel to serve as ushers at his son’s wedding banquet. It was not just the incident itself that had people raising their eyebrows — it was also the speed of the response. It seems that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is keen to use this incident as a show of authority.

During the Martial Law era, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was the sole political party in Taiwan, and party, government and military were inextricably linked. The latter was, in fact, the KMT government’s main way of maintaining its hold on political power. As a result, the KMT kept a very tight rein on the armed forces. Wind of any misconduct or misdemeanors on the part of officers would be reported immediately through special channels in the political-military system and offending officers were commonly removed from their positions as a result. Yes, this meant some elements within the system tried to make others take a fall to improve their own career prospects, but it also served as a powerful deterrent that kept the armed forces in check.

Since the development of democracy in Taiwan, these systematic safeguards and monitoring mechanisms have gradually lost their potency and irregularities are no longer reported with such rapidity. Investigations often come to naught due to a lack of evidence or because officers close ranks and cover for each other. Certainly, such mechanisms are failing in today’s air force. The time has come for the Ministry of National Defense (MND) to review the situation and establish an effective ethics department.

In the past, it was quite common in the armed forces for subordinates to undertake family or personal affairs for their superiors and indeed this kind of behavior was seen as evidence that one had secured the trust and confidence of that superior. It was not considered strange if such a person was promoted as a result further down the line. The fact that a subordinate would demonstrate this kind of unquestioned loyalty, sometimes at some personal risk, to win the trust of a superior, and that such loyalty was rewarded, was just part and parcel of the culture of the armed forces. Nowadays, however, the military and civilian spheres are much more accessible to each other, with the former exposed to more scrutiny than has previously been the case. Things the military did in the past, and that were seen as quite normal back then, are nowadays considered to be at odds with the values of a more modern society that emphasizes democratic ideals.

One could say that Lei has no one else to blame for either his demotion or the fact that any chances of future promotion have now been blocked for him. There is no need to go casting about for any conspiracy theory here. After all, he certainly isn’t the first military officer to be summarily demoted.

Ma likes to claim that he is a disciple of former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), and in fact since he became president many of his more rational measures do bear Chiang’s stamp. Ma has yet to make his mark in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and he has so far failed to impress with his vision or leadership qualities. There is so much more he could have done.

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