Fri, Apr 13, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Disclosure of accounts key to earn voters’ trust

By Li Kuan-long 李坤隆

Despite the passage of the Political Donations Act (政治獻金法), most people are concerned about politicians’ donations accounts, in particular as a common reaction to detailed campaign expenditures published following elections is that spending was much higher than anyone expected.

Today, the media are once again making a big deal about Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je’s (柯文哲) donations account during the 2014 campaign, which has made him call on all candidates in the year-end mayoral election to follow his lead and open up their own accounts to the public.

It might be impulsive, but Taiwanese really do need to turst their politicians and transparency of accounts is one small step in the right direction.

Opening their accounts to the public does not necessarily mean that politicians can be trusted, but if they are unwilling to do even that, one wonders whether Taiwanese will ever be able to trust their leaders.

In Taiwan, it appears that businesses routinely maintain two sets of books, one open and one secret. Politicians during election time probably have even more than two and they probably also have other ways of avoiding public scrutiny.

This means that it is difficult to get a complete picture of politicians’ money flows, but transparent accounting still makes sense.

First, transparency avoids the traditional routine: Politicians have always touted their morals and most voters have never cared much about their funds.

Candidates’ finances thus became a black hole. Even if they did report them, it was done haphazardly and government controls were formal at best. A willingness to provide transparent accounts is one big step away from that black hole.

Second, it is honest and shows a willingness to be true to oneself. Most Taiwanese distrust politicians because they are generally dishonest and lack authenticity — but that is not how you build voter trust.

Keeping transparent accounts might not be what politicians want, but at least doing so is the first step toward taking an honest look at oneself.

Third, transparent accounting offers the opportunity for better oversight.

The role of Taiwanese politicians is strange: They keep a low profile before elections, but after an election, they get arrogant and bossy — this is frustrating to voters. Transparent election accounting at least tries to provide oversight and it helps provide more information ahead of the next election.

Ko has come to embody political progress in Taiwan because he has adopted a culture very different from the traditional election culture.

Although he has been sullied over the past three years in office and is no longer “white” or “transparent,” his call for transparency in accounting has at least highlighted the attitudes of other candidates toward this issue, which gives Taiwanese voters more information when deciding who to vote for.

Taiwanese politics is full of people making demands of others. The discussion about transparent election accounts will hopefully lead to politicians making demands of themselves before they start making demands of others. That would be crucial to the development of Taiwan’s democracy.

Li Kuan-long is a lecturer at Shih Chien University’s Kaohsiung campus.

Translated by Perry Svensson

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