Fri, May 06, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Down Taiwan’s political rabbit hole

By Julian Baum and Sam Lang

“We did everything that was required of us,” Chiang said.

In searching to explain the government’s charges, the two former aides noted the difference between the vast volume of unaccountable materials coming to the office and the tightly regulated gongwen — official documents — that originated in the Presidential Office and were much fewer in number. They described “a loophole in the system,” with no clear distinction between which documents required little or no accountability and those which had strict rules. Even the gongwen from other government agencies were copies that were routinely destroyed after use. These differences afford a wide margin for error or even manipulation, they said, for those who might claim a gap in the archives.

While the facts of this case may be in dispute, the larger context is clear. This is the latest chapter in a protracted legal and political struggle between the former president and state prosecutors over access to records. One informed observer commented that if prosecutors are now frustrated with gathering evidence to proceed with further indictments against Chen and his administration, this case may help shake loose new information or show why further charges may not be forthcoming.

The details of the case may be of less consequence than the timing. The start of a four-year cycle of election campaigns for the president and legislature is a politically convenient time for the government, Lin Feng-jeng (林峰正) of the Judicial Reform Foundation said.

In an interview, Lin raised many questions: Why did this take almost three years before it was brought to public attention? Why assign so few people to the audit? Why haven’t others spoken out before now?

It is “inconceivable,” Lin said, that no public servants emerged to report such violations when they are the ones most liable under the law. He also said the Control Yuan has petitioned for more guidance on what it should do next, as there is no precedent for such an investigation or disciplinary action.

Whether this affair is merely a legal rabbit hole, embroiling key opposition leaders in burdensome litigation, is a question that needs an answer before next year.

There are many reasons to believe that it is indeed just that.

Julian Baum is a former Taiwan correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review. Sam Lang studied political science at the London School of Economics and is working on a documentary on Taiwan’s political development for Gatling Pictures.

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