Promote real reform for Taiwan

By Jerome Keating  / 

Thu, Jan 25, 2007 - Page 8

Former Democratic Progressive Party chairman Shih Ming-deh's (施明德) protest campaign is history. The due process of law for the alleged corruption of Taiwan's president is taking its course as it should.

Despite all the hullabaloo of a few months ago, the area outside Taipei Railway Station has been purged of the red-shirted demonstrators.

Taiwan has no lack of sunshine reformers, self-serving reformers, show-boating reformers and free-loading reformers.

These will always be here to lead the naive and seek their spot in the limelight.

What Taiwan could use more of, however, are sincere and dedicated people who are interested in true reform across the board with the goal of benefitting Taiwan.

Shih's whole campaign collapsed as it became evident that it was not supported by the voice of the people. It was fueled by those with a pronounced hatred for President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

It turned out that the March of a Million was actually no more than 360,000 pan-blue supporters.

Then there were the donations. Shih's campaign managed to collect around NT$110 million (US$3 million) in donations.

But despite the immediacy of the donations and the pan-blue cries for accountability by Chen, Shih's campaign has purposely avoided true accountability for the sources of its own income.

Yes, here was a huge fund for the purpose of pressuring the government to depose Chen. This money was never accounted for.

It was suspected that Chen Yu-hao (陳由豪), a swindler who ran off with Tuntex funds, funded Shih's campaign.

It was also suspected that China may have contributed to the campaign.

Shih's campaign was not transparent in accounting for its sources and spending. The story that it came from grass roots supporters donating NT$100 each has not been proven.

The straw that broke the camel's back, however, came with the realization that Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) might be indicted for suspected misuse of funds, and perhaps much more easily than Chen.

In addition, many legislators and officials from the pan-blue and pan-green camps themselves may not have clean hands.

Blinded by its fixation with vilifying Chen, the pan-blue media unintentionally opened a Pandora's Box that revealed a system prone to corruption and in dire need of reform.

This system is just one of many problems that remain from the country's time as a one-party state.

After Ma came into focus, the pan-blue media shut up. To say anything further would have meant analyzing the flaws in the system and calling for reform.

It would have meant dragging the KMT's skeletons out of the closet. The pan-blue media and the demonstrators were more interested in attacking Chen.

Where is Shih now? He has pulled off a disappearing act.

Shih says he is in seclusion in a little apartment with a back door near Taipei Railway Station until next year.

Is that what the campaign money was for? Shih will occasionally show his head to try to justify that the money spent on him was not wasted.

Nevertheless, an obvious question remains. Was Shih ever committed to real reform? He never campaigned against pan-blue corruption.

Although he traipsed around the nation campaigning against Chen, Shih could not bring himself to lead his troops the short distance to Keelung where the mayor had been convicted of corruption with a capital C. The mayor is still in office there and protected by the KMT.

None of Taiwan's sunshine reformers want to tackle that reality.

Where have all the supporting politicians like People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) gone?

Soong joined Shih and then ran for and lost Taipei's mayorship. Soong is checking up on his property in the US. He was not dedicated to reform.

Where are all the sages of Academia Sinica and the literary figures that weighed in on the depose Chen debate? They are suddenly silent.

Have they weighed in on any of the other convicted or accused corruption cases in this country?

Not quite -- those cases are nitty-gritty reform cases that demand a lot of work with little exposure to the limelight.

There is no question that Taiwan needs reform of both political camps.

There is also no question that Taiwan's governmental system is in desperate need of reform.

With the approach of the legislative elections in December, sincere reform must be a critical factor in evaluating and selecting candidates.

In the coming year, Taiwan must assess what true reform is.

While it does that, let me make a few related predictions for this year. Only time will tell if my predictions are correct.

We will never see true accountability of the sources that donated money to Shih's protest campaign.

We will never see full accountability for the expenditure of the NT$40 million to NT$50 million remaining in that fund either. The records for expenditure of the first NT$60 million were vague.

The KMT's stolen assets that Ma promised in 2005 would be sold will not all have been sold by the end of this year.

The money from whatever assets the KMT does manage to sell off will -- like the previous sales -- never be returned to the public.

The money will be used to pay off the KMT's bills or fund Ma's presidential campaign.

The media will continue to avoid doing its job.

It will neither push for true reform across the board nor will it seek to find out answers to questions like where Shih's campain money came from and where it went.

Jerome Keating is a writer based in Taiwan.