A number of allegations have been made against Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) concerning abuse of power and ignoring a clear conflict of interest in her involvement with Yu Chang Biologics Co.
Regardless of whether the investment in Yu Chang, now known as TaiMed Biologics Inc, was questionable, at a time when everyone is talking about ethics, it is important that we do not allow ethical demands to override all else.
In the past, less emphasis was placed on ethics in public administration. As a result, it was important to push aggressively for the implementation of and adherence to ethical standards in the civil service.
However, many of the laws and ethical requirements related to public affairs and government posts cannot be dealt with as absolutes to be applied without trying to understand the underlying intent. Instead, such laws and ethical requirements must be interpreted using common sense.
For example, not long ago, a retired grand justice was criticized for attending a conference on judicial reform held by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his vice presidential candidate, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義).
Taipei District Court Judge Lin Meng-huang (林孟皇) — nicknamed “the conscience of the judiciary” — who I greatly respect, also believed that the retired grand justice breached judicial neutrality by attending the conference.
However, while I believe that investigations based on ideological concerns and judicial partisanship are reprehensible, I also think that as long as judicial impartiality is not undermined, ethical standards for judges must not be pushed to the point where they infringe on the rights a judge should reasonably have.
In another example, a candidate in a previous election who had pledged to institute subsidies for Aboriginal chieftains if elected was taken to court by prosecutors for entering into a contract or other -inappropriate beneficial relationship with people who have the right to vote. The prosecutors even went so far as to cite certain clauses from US law to support their argument.
When a friend asked me how this kind of situation would be interpreted in US law, I said that the lack of common sense in their literal interpretation was not only laughable, it also placed restrictions on political language by turning all campaign rhetoric, whether it is about tax reductions, road construction or national pensions, into some form of “contract” aimed at “certain” individuals.
Ethical norms must not be allowed to override all else because it is often impossible to apply abstract norms to real-life situations.
Abstract concepts must be removed from their context and thus cannot be used to reflect the context of everything that happens in the real world. That of course means that they are also unable to deal with the many exceptions that are an integral part of everyday life.
In other words, if we review all the demands that Tsai should have avoided any possible conflict of interest in relation to the Yu Chang affair, it becomes clear that abstract regulations are useless in helping us discern whether she actively created the opportunity to become chairperson of the company or was invited and encouraged to accept the post by investors.
In certain situations, principles regarding conflicts of interest can also be waived. For example, if a trial judge owns shares in a company, that might imply a conflict of interest.