There has been much discussion recently about the problem of Taiwan’s “brain drain” — an issue flagged by Singaporean Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who said in April that Taiwan should serve as a warning that Singapore could lose its global edge by closing its doors to overseas talent.
Shanmugaratnam’s remarks struck a chord with Taiwanese government officials and many in the private sector. Following heated discussion on the legislative floor, and meetings hosted by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus — which were attended by officials from various agencies such as the Council of Economic Planning and Development, the National Science Council, the Council of Labor Affairs and the Ministry of Education — earlier this week a two-day conference on developing science and technology was held as part of the government’s latest effort to seek advice and suggestions on how to stem the outflow of talent.
There are, indeed, many causes which contribute to the nation’s growing “brain drain,” including comparatively low wages, the lucrative salaries and benefits offered by competing nations, as well as insufficient linkage between academic research and the private sector.
Officials, however, have failed to pinpoint one key element which is helping to fuel the current talent flight: A judicial system that lacks true independence.
After all, why would any aspirant and talented individual ever want to return to Taiwan and contribute their knowledge and skills to their home country when they witness the judicial ordeal which former National Science Council deputy minister Shieh Ching-jyh (謝清志) has had to endure?
The corruption trial against Shieh, who served under the former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, was finally closed on Friday after prosecutors said they would not appeal the sentence to the Supreme Court, but imagine the emotional torment and the physical and mental drain Shieh has been through over the past five-and-a-half years. All this because the nation’s prosecutors appear content to build cases with little more than circumstantial evidence.
Shieh holds a PhD in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan and worked at Rockwell Automation as a guidance and control analyst, where he was a well-respected professional. He was the nation’s main aerospace technology promoter following his return to Taiwan, having presided over the launch division of the 1999 Formosat-1 satellite launch at Cape Canaveral Air Base.
Shieh last week said in no uncertain terms that the charges against him were politically motivated and were aimed primarily at discrediting the former DPP administration.
The Shieh case also brings to mind the brouhaha over Yu Chang Biologics Co in the run-up to the Jan. 14 presidential election this year, when the Ministry of Finance under the KMT government spearheaded a series of allegations against then-DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), accusing her of irregularities in her involvement with the company, and along with it raised suspicions against many of the scientists.
Professionals like Shieh are the talented people the nation needs to attract, but how is Taiwan to attract those people when cases like Shieh’s suggest a risk of being embroiled in a political wrangle and, along with it, doubts about their integrity?