The closing of investigation into the centennial musical Dreamers by the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office on Tuesday, which concluded that no irregularities were involved, suggests that any hope of having an impartial, independent national investigative apparatus remains a distant dream.
Dreamers, produced last year to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Republic of China (ROC), drew criticism after it was revealed that the two nights of performances — played to a total audience of just 12,000 — came with a price tag of NT$215 million (US$7.15 million).
More questions were raised when the public learned that it had been produced by the Performance Workshop Theatre, whose founder, Stan Lai (賴聲川), and companies closely associated with him had won bids for projects relating to Taipei’s Deaflympics in 2009 and the Taipei International Flora Expo in 2010.
In light of the exorbitant budget for the musical and the bidding process, which saw the project divided into 13 bids, six of which were limited, the National Audit Office had many nodding in agreement when its recent annual report on the government’s budget reprimanded the Council for Cultural Affairs, the agency overseeing the ROC Centenary Foundation, of lacking supervision and oversight in providing the subsidies.
It is not surprising that many people found it hard to believe that the Taipei prosecutors were closing the Dreamers case.
The prosecutors’ 23-page report reads more like a defense statement for the main suspects — President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), then-premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) and former council minister Emile Sheng (盛治仁) — than a report aimed at clearing up corruption allegations implicating high-ranking officials.
Despite the rare but “thoughtful” move on the part of the prosecutors to append a question-and-answer section in their report, the document nonetheless still fails to provide convincing answers to various questions surrounding the case.
For one, how was it that Sheng was able to report to the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) Central Standing Committee on Oct. 13, 2010, that Lai would be in charge of the Dreamers project when the bidding on the project did not officially end until Dec. 20 that year? Why did the project need to be divided into 13 smaller bids? Could it be, as the audit office alleged in its report, that divvying up the larger bid enabled the project to avoid the supervision stipulated by the Government Procurement Act (政府採購法) for big-budget projects?
And why can the prosecutors not make public the detailed accounts and show where the NT$215 million went so that taxpayers could at least have an idea how their hard-earned money was spent?
The pattern is all too familiar, and disturbing, one might add. Despite Ma’s constant talk of building a clean government and eradicating corruption, the actions the public sees are largely the opposite.
From the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office Special Investigation Division’s snail-paced probe of the corruption allegations involving former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世) to the Dreamers case, more people are beginning to agree with the remark by Neil Peng (馮光遠), screenwriter of The Wedding Banquet (喜宴), that in recent years it appears judicial cases “are likely be dropped if they have anything to do with Ma.”