Mon, Feb 04, 2019 - Page 6 News List

A critical stage in the fight against corruption

By Ernie Ko 葛傳宇

Transparency International on Tuesday last week published the results of its 2018 Corruption Perception Index. Taiwan ranked 31 out of 180 countries surveyed: two places below last year’s score.

Although Taiwan was preceded only by Hong Kong and Japan in East Asia, the lower ranking is a warning sign.

The index is recognized worldwide. Transparency International has been publishing it every year since 1995 and it has become an important tool for the global anti-corruption movement. The index is not compiled from a single opinion poll, but rather from 13 separate international surveys and assessments.

The statistics are weighted to create a composite corruption index. One of its most important aspects is that it is a “lagging indicator”: It produces a “rear mirror effect” — an appraisal of a government’s performance toward stamping out corruption over one to two years, as assessed by businesspeople and analysts.

For this reason, last year’s index should be read as a mid-term evaluation of President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) performance during her administration’s first year in power from 2016. Thirty-first out of 180 is a passable result, but it should be taken as an early warning. Just think, if a national opinion poll had been conducted, the ranking would perhaps have been even lower, as the public’s level of trust in the public sector is low.

In the coming few years, a raft of large-scale domestic engineering and construction projects are to provide an important criterion for Transparency International and other organizations to evaluate Taiwan’s performance.

In the push to defeat government-level corruption, there is no magic panacea. It requires political will, a systemic approach, and alignment with international norms and standards.

At the moment, the global anti-corruption movement is focused on large-scale corruption, dirty money, and transnational flows and people engagement.

The Tsai administration has to date set aside NT$800 billion (US$26.02 billion) for the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program, the indigenous submarine program and other large public works projects. Given the huge sums involved, this is a critical time for Taiwan’s corruption-busting apparatus.

If the government manages to implement the above-mentioned three elements crucial for fighting corruption and to set up a genuinely effective anti-corruption framework that meets international standards, it could not only curb scandals and abuses of the system, but also ensure that Taiwan scores favorably with international governance monitoring organizations.

Changes in the leadership of the Ministry of Justice’s Agency Against Corruption (AAC) are frequent and the incoming director-general is the fifth in the 7.5 years since the agency’s establishment. While a leadership change should present no problem, policy consistency and forward-looking planning are necessary.

During his term, outgoing AAC Director-General Chu Chia-chi (朱家崎) initiated the first review of Taiwan’s implementation of the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), which received praise from the five members of the international expert panel. Unfortunately, this was not included in the latest Corruption Perception Index due to the lag built into it.

It would be a pity if the review was put away in a drawer somewhere. The AAC must train staff to handle international exchanges, and send personnel abroad for training and to advertise Taiwan’s development of ethical government based on the national review of Taiwan’s UNCAC implementation.

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