Fri, Apr 12, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Greater transparency on aid needed

By James Baron

The news that Taiwanese dollars found their way into the coffers of the Iran-backed Islamist group recalled Taipei’s role as a US proxy during the Iran-Contra scandal, when two payments of US$1 million were delivered to the Nicaraguan Democratic Force rebels between 1985 and 1986.

In using Taipei as a conduit, and thereby circumventing a temporary congressional veto on funding the contras, the administration of then-US president Ronald Reagan could claim its official policy of not sponsoring terrorism remained intact.

The parallels with the Sudan case are striking. With celebrities such as George Clooney drawing attention to the unfurling humanitarian crisis in Sudan just as Jammeh was proposing to offload the Taiwanese arms, this had the potential to become an extremely embarrassing situation for the Ma administration.

While the OCCRP expose stops short of asserting Taiwanese cognizance of Jammeh’s intentions, it notes that the Gambian leader had previously provided Sudan with a separate batch of weapons. At the very least, Taipei maintained a position of willful ignorance.

Shortly after assuming the presidency in 2016, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) made it clear that there would be no return to the “checkbook diplomacy” of previous administrations. Since then, Taiwan has lost five of its diplomatic allies, leaving the number of states that recognize Taipei at 17.

China’s renewed assault on Taiwan’s diplomacy has obviously been the main reason for this. With the end of the diplomatic truce, which was really just a reward for Ma’s kowtowing, China is once again splashing cash on a level that Taiwan cannot match. Having learned from past mistakes, Tsai is not naive enough to fall into this trap.

The Tsai administration is also much more aware about the need for transparency in development assistance and the benefits of a move toward public diplomacy. Yet, old habits die hard, and the well has not quite run dry.

In February, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed a loan of US$100 million to Nicaragua. The nature of the announcement itself was concerning: A ministry statement acknowledged the loan only after Reuters reported that Nicaragua’s congress had formally accepted it and that the Taiwanese authorities had yet to comment on the matter.

However, the real problem was the timing and the stated purpose of the funds. Following the protests against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega that began in April last year and the subsequent bloody crackdown that left more than 300 people dead, Managua has requested funds for reconstruction efforts. With Ortega widely criticized for his response, Taiwan’s support has drawn attention. Furthermore, it comes on the back of a US$3 million donation to the National Nicaraguan Police Force in December last year.

Aside from the questionable ethics of helping to bolster Ortega’s government, as Juan Fernando Herrera Ramos observed in these pages last month, any new government might remember this support with resentment.

Then, again, there is the issue of transparency. Writing for Ketagalan Media in January, Mauricio Sandigo Peralta quoted former Nicaraguan congressman Eliseo Nunez, who said of the police force loan: “Even though [Taiwan] knows the money could be misused, they don’t say anything to avoid conflict.”

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