Taiwan has been shaken by a high-profile corruption case revolving around a NT$16 million (US$530,000) bribe allegedly paid to former Taoyuan County deputy commissioner Yeh Shih-wen (葉世文) in connection with a public housing construction project. Yeh was dismissed when the news broke and as that case developed, it came to light that a law professor apparently thought he could save about NT$1,000 by using a cheaper, short-distance ticket on a high-speed train from Taipei to Zuoying (左營) in Greater Kaohsiung.
The money involved in the latter case is less than in the first by a factor of 10,000, but people can be greedy, whether they stand to gain NT$1,000 or NT$10 million. What can be done to discourage greed and stamp out corruption? Two areas that need changing are education and the way government officials are selected.
An education system that emphasizes competition and comparison will produce people who are always trying to get ahead. The attitude such a system fosters is that if someone else has a BMW, then you will want a Porsche and if another person lives in a high-rise apartment then you want to live luxury home. If people cannot maintain face by getting the things they want, they will think of ways to get their hands on more money and corruption is one method of obtaining that.
Many people judge whether a junior-high school is well-run based on how many of its students achieve the grades necessary to get into prestigious senior-high schools like Taipei Municipal Jianguo High School and Taipei First Girls’ High School. The same criteria are used for assessing how well a senior-high school is run — how many of its alumni get into National Taiwan University. The national education system gives pride of place to competition and comparison.
If graduating students knows all 26 letters of the English alphabet and can understand basic English, solve simple mathematical problems and comprehend newspaper editorials; if they are courteous and sociable, then that institution’s teaching should be regarded as successful, no matter how many of its graduates go on to attend the top schools.
An education system that emphasizes improving basic skills instead of how many star students a school can produce, might produce a more harmonious and civil society, as well as make it harder for corruption to take root.
Another major problem lies with the government, where being well-connected is the key factor in selecting administrative officers. The bribery case involving former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世), incidences of corruption in Changhua and Nantou counties, the scandal-plagued Taipei Twin Towers project and the case involving Yeh — all of these were borne out of problems that arouse with officials who had connections in high places.
Although President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) talks about the need for clean government, there is clearly a problem with the system for appointing officials. As long as this system remains in place, nothing that Ma tries to do from the top down can stop the rot that is going on beneath him.
If instead of their capacity to follow whatever senior political figure they are related to, incorruptibility was the top requirement for all government officials — from the premier and Cabinet ministers, to mayors and county commissioners — with ability as the second requirement and good character the third, it would make the entire government cleaner and more efficient.