Following the increase in oil prices, Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) announced it would raise the cost of electricity to mitigate heavy losses and reflect actual costs. This move has drawn focus to the company’s business practices, in particular to the excessively high costs of Taipower’s electricity outsourcing, which is not only wasteful, but may also be corrupt.
However, the Agency Against Corruption (AAC), established to eliminate corruption in the civil service, has remained curiously indifferent to the issue in press statements and in testimony to legislative committees. This inaction is at odds with its raison d’etre.
The civil service and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have their own government ethics units, but the officers staffing them lack judicial status. Even if they suspect corruption, their options are limited to passing the information to the Ministry of Justice’s Investigation Bureau, making it difficult to strike while the iron is hot. This is why the AAC was established, and Item 2, Article 2 of the Organic Act for the Agency Against Corruption (廉政署組織法) regards officials investigating corruption as judicial police officers as defined in the Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟法).
Judicial police are supervised by prosecutors. Nevertheless, item 2 in both Article 230 and 231 of the Code of Criminal Procedure states: “The judicial police officer ... who suspects that an offense has been committed shall initiate an investigation immediately.” This is because prosecutors work under the sole judge system and themselves lack the equipment and training needed to conduct criminal investigations. It is the judicial police who are the front line against corruption. This is why the Criminal Code empowers judicial police to initiate a criminal investigation on their own without waiting for permission from prosecutors.
According to the Criminal Code, the term “public official” means those “serving in an organization of the state or a local autonomous body.” In July 1, 2006, this definition was further qualified as being those also “empowered with legal function and power.” Consequently, individuals operating SOEs are no longer considered public officials. However, they are considered public officials under the Government Procurement Act (政府採購法) if they have been outsourcing energy provision, and therefore corruption on their part is open to investigation under the Criminal Code or the Anti-Corruption Act (貪污治罪條例).
Accusations that Taipower’s losses resulted from dubious procurements remain unsubstantiated. However, since the Criminal Code states that judicial police, meaning AAC officers, who suspect criminal activity can investigate without prior directives from prosecutors, it is in the AAC’s power to do so.
When the AAC was established last year, statements were made about how it would coordinate efforts to prevent and eliminate civil service corruption, about how prosecutors would be stationed there to direct AAC officers in their investigations and ensure the consolidation of resources and concentration of effort against corruption.
However, since its inception, the AAC has clashed with the Investigation Bureau and been noticeably lax in collecting information about the waste of public funds by SOEs, such as CPC Corp, Taiwan and Taipower, and slow to pursue any allegations against them. Its behavior is a far cry from the original intentions under which it was established.