Eliminating corruption was a pledge President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) stressed during his presidential election campaign as one of his core principles.
However, the recent spate of bribery allegations involving high-ranking government officials has given rise to concern over the nation’s deteriorating stance on corruption.
Following the indictment of former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世) in late October — in which he was accused of demanding bribes, pocketing about NT$60 million (US$2.02 million) in bribes, concealing illegal gains and keeping unaccountable assets — Nantou County Commissioner Lee Chao-ching (李朝卿) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was detained on Nov. 30 on charges of corruption and violations of the Government Procurement Act (政府採購法). Prosecutors suspect that he received kickbacks from contractors who won bids for fixing roads damaged by typhoons.
Amid these scandals, a string of reports by the Chinese-language Next Magazine implicated Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) and members of his family in Lin’s alleged corruption. Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫) was accused in another Next Magazine report on Wednesday last week of having met with Lee in Nantou on the day Lee was implicated in a corruption case, and Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘) was accused of visiting the Nantou Prosecutors’ Office the day Lee was summoned by prosecutors for questioning. These reports triggered suspicion over the intent of their visits at such a sensitive time.
Then there was the allegation involving former National Fire Agency director-general Huang Chi-min (黃季敏), who on Tuesday was indicted on charges of receiving bribes from contractors during his term in office.
It is little wonder that in a survey released by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy earlier this month, corruption was the issue chosen by the public as their greatest source of discontent, scoring 1.9 points on a scale of one to five (with a score of five representing the highest satisfaction and zero representing the highest discontent).
Where, then, is the fury from Ma, the president with a trademark emphasis on fostering clean government?
Many vividly recall a seminar held in July that all Cabinet-level and high-ranking officials were required to attend, in which Ma lectured them on the importance of integrity.
“When dealing with cases of possible corruption, we must handle things by actively uncovering the corruption, rapidly dealing with it, cooperating with investigations and keeping the public informed. The most important thing is the attitude of government leaders. We should not be afraid to air our dirty laundry in public. Honesty is the best policy, and as long as we take the initiative to uncover corruption and keep the public informed in a timely manner, the public will not lose its trust in the government,” Ma said.
He also reiterated his “four noes” on civil servants’ conduct: No desire to be corrupt, no need to be corrupt, no opportunity to be corrupt and no daring to be corrupt, because the penalties for corruption are severe.
Many would say that those are rousing words and quite sincere, but when words are not followed by concrete action, they are but words. While some may argue that Ma could easily chalk up establishing the Agency Against Corruption as an achievement, the question is: What good is an agency that exists in name only and lacks the teeth it needs to root out corruption?