If an opinion poll were to be held right now, asking people what they can recall about the government’s celebrations of the Republic of China (ROC) centenary last year, probably the vast majority of respondents would remember the annoyance they felt about the musical Dreamers (夢想家), which cost almost NT$230 million (US$7.67 million) of taxpayers’ money, but was only performed for two nights. The Dreamers fiasco drew a lot of protest from arts and entertainment circles in Taiwan, but what is the truth behind it? Does anyone emerge untainted by this tale of corruption and abuse of the law? The Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office has launched an investigation into the matter, but nobody has come forward to give the public a clear account of what happened.
However, it would be a mistake to think that the widely despised Dreamers was the sole fly in the ointment in an otherwise successful ROC centenary celebration. The National Audit Office (NAO) recently released its annual report on the central government’s budget. The report publicizes the budgets for all the centenary celebrations, including that of Dreamers. In fact, it makes these figures known before government regulators, who seem to be dragging their feet, publish their findings.
To cut a long story short, the celebrations were paid for out of one overall fund, with no itemization of expenditures or information about what money went where. Onlookers could be forgiven for asking how, if the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is as irreproachably clean as it claims, could something that involved many different departments be paid for from one collective fund? The public should also be concerned about what follow-up action the Control Yuan plans to take in the light of the NAO report. Also, did the Agency Against Corruption and the Special Investigation Division have advance access to this data? Now that it has been published, are prosecutors going to launch an investigation? Or will they just drop it once the storm has blown over?
The NAO budget report reveals several examples of illegal or suspect behavior. These include circumventing the required budget review for the centenary celebrations, even though they cost a staggering NT$4.7 billion, by establishing a corporate legal entity named the ROC Centenary Foundation to coordinate the activities. The Presidential Office set aside NT$50 million to subsidize this foundation, but did not list this sum of money as a donation. The government also arranged for state-operated enterprises such as CPC Corp, Taiwan, Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) and Chunghwa Telecom to throw more money into the hat. None of these donations were required to be reviewed in the legislature. Why the cloak-and-dagger approach? It must have been because the government was worried that elected bodies would raise objections, but if they were really concerned about these objections, why did they press ahead regardless? What unspeakable reasons lie behind the government’s fear of transparency and its efforts to avoid oversight?
The NAO also has reservations about the role of the Council for Cultural Affairs (CCA). The council was responsible for overseeing the Centenary Foundation, and yet then-Council for Cultural Affairs minister Emile Sheng (盛治仁) was also executive director of the foundation. This was a clear case of conflict of interest, but why stop there? It was Ma who gave the order to hold the centenary celebrations in the first place. Task forces were set up in the Presidential Office, the Executive Yuan and the Centenary Foundation, headed by then-vice president Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), Minister without Portfolio Ovid Tzeng (曾志朗) and Sheng respectively. So this was a joint action of the entire government, and Sheng was just one link in the chain, who merely did as he was told.