Mon, Nov 05, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Vital to protect freedom of speech

By Chien Hsi-chieh 簡錫堦

From the 1970s onward, other advanced democracies started enacting laws to ensure the transparency of government information. However, not until 2005 did Taiwan adopt its Freedom of Government Information Act (政府資訊公開法). Unfortunately, this law exists on paper only, because up until today there is no agency responsible for enforcing it.

No law or rules have been enacted to ensure that the terms of the act are carried out and consequently, any government agency can refuse to make documents public. Bureaucrats can turn down applications to view such documents on various grounds, such as that they are classified or involve operational secrets, or that making them public would be an invasion of privacy.

Up until now, more than 90 percent of data concerning public officials’ personal asset declarations are not open to public scrutiny. Information about the president’s state affairs fund and about discretionary funds available to the premier and other leading officials is still not open and accessible.

When it comes to government procurement and tendering, only tender announcements and contracts are made public. Specifications related to tenders and procurements, the examination procedure and the reasons for granting or denying contracts to various applicants are all hidden from public view. One cannot help but suspect that so much data are kept hidden away to allow those in authority to get up to no good.

If Shih is punished according to the terms of the Public Functionary Service Act or the Act Governing the Administrative Impartiality of Public Officials for using Facebook to voice his views on the US visa exemption issue and the question of giving NHI coverage to Chinese students — even if he is only given a written admonishment — it will be a big reversal that runs contrary to the way in which modern democracies are developing.

Chien Hsi-chieh is executive director of the Peacetime Foundation of Taiwan and convener of the Anti-Poverty Alliance.

Translated by Julian Clegg

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