Since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) started his second term on May 20 last year, several of his closest and most important aides have been involved corruption scandals.
On June 27 last year, then-Executive Yuan secretary-general and former head of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) Youth League Lin Yi-shih (林益世) was implicated in a corruption scandal. On Nov. 30, Nantou County Commissioner Lee Chao-ching (李朝卿), whom both Ma and Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) had guaranteed to be clean and honest, was questioned by prosecutors over allegations he solicited bribes in connection with a post-disaster reconstruction project.
On Jan. 29, Changhua County Commissioner Cho Po-yuan (卓伯源) was questioned over his involvement in a corruption case involving his younger brother, Cho Po-chung (卓伯仲), and on March 27, KMT Taipei City Councilor Lai Su-ju (賴素如), who was also the director of Ma’s office as KMT chairman and served as his lawyer, was taken into custody on bribery allegations.
These cases have not only dealt a heavy blow to the image of Ma, who takes pride in being clean and honest, they have also weakened his control over the KMT.
There are reports that political infighting within the party is intensifying, as local factions jockey for position ahead of the seven-in-one local elections next year and the presidential election in 2016. Since there are few politicians that can stand up to public scrutiny, more scandals that will have a huge political impact, are likely to emerge.
Corruption is a problem that is deeply rooted in the structure of Taiwanese politics. Large financial corporations and interest groups make overt political contributions. We have seen people at the top demand donations from unwilling firms and indivduals.
We have also seen people pay others to undermine the opposition, or hedge their bets by roving back and forth between political parties. And of course there are those who strike deals over specific legal cases or interests. For example, public works is one area in which it is difficult to separate money and power.
When former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was a legislator, his office outside the legislature was overstaffed with people funded by corporations. After he became president, many medium and large-sized corporations were pressured to make donations during elections. At the time, a senior KMT member joked that the KMT was like a mosquito that is so full, it did not need to suck too much blood and thus did not do much harm, whereas the DPP was like a mosquito that was starving out in the wild and when given the chance, bit like mad, thus leaving not only nasty bites, but also hurting people.
However, there are even more under-the-table deals involved in grassroots politics. Election advertising, printing election pamphlets, mobilizing people and soliciting votes all require money, and at large-scale campaign rallies, the central government only has to say the word for local factions to provide people and money to organize tour buses, distribute lunchboxes and pay “walking fees.”
Where does all this money come from, and what happens when local factions are sometimes expected to demonstrate their financial ability by paying kickbacks to party headquarters?
Because all levels of government are in on the action and because businesspeople and politicians collude with each other, public works projects have become big business that everyone wants a share of. Those with few moral scruples skimp on materials and labor, and the public is saddled with poor-quality buildings and projects.