Politicians’ integrity is under question again with the alleged involvement in corruption of two county commissioners in southern Taiwan.
Nantou County Commissioner Lee Chao-ching (李朝卿), a member of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), was detained on Thursday on charges of corruption and violations of the Government Procurement Act (政府採購法). Prosecutors had found NT$300,000 (US$10,300) cash wrapped in a tea canister in his office and suspected that Lee had received kickbacks from contractors who won public projects for fixing road damage caused by typhoons and floods.
On Friday, Kaohsiung prosecutors indicted Chiayi County Commissioner Helen Chang (張花冠), a member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and her sister, Chang Ying-chi (張瑛姬), on charges of corruption and violations of the act through allegedly assigning road maintenance projects to preferred contractors and receiving more than NT$7 million in kickbacks.
In addition, Non-Partisan Solidarity Union Legislator Yen Ching-piao (顏清標), an influential politician from Greater Taichung, was sentenced to three-and-half years in prison last week after he was found guilty of spending more than NT$20 million of the former Taichung County Council money in hostess bars and KTV lounges during his term as county commissioner.
The three cases reveal the dark side of Taiwanese politics, in which politicians collaborate with public-work contractors and gangsters. Spending taxpayers’ money in hostess bars or dodging regulations to assign construction projects to preferred contractors and taking kickbacks are old tricks that have been used by various politicians. While the corruption cases involving Lee and Chang are still under investigation, both the KMT and the DPP should take the allegations seriously and show that they will not tolerate corruption at any level.
The KMT’s Evaluation and Discipline Committee has already revoked Lee’s party rights. KMT regulations state that members should be stripped of their party rights if found guilty in a first trial.
However, the DPP remains skeptical about judicial fairness in Chang’s indictment. DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) cited as examples the cases of former National Security Council secretary-general Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) and former Nantou County commissioner Peng Pai-hsien (彭百顯), and said that many DPP members who were indicted for corruption were eventually acquitted.
The DPP’s distrust of the judicial system is understandable, as many DPP politicians were persecuted through the judicial system under the former KMT regime and the neutrality of the judicial system under President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration remains questionable.
The judicial system must work harder to establish anti-graft standards and raise the quality of trials, which are important steps toward judicial independence. Under the current system, different courts make rulings on corruption cases based on different standards and interpretations. Yen’s case, which took 12 years to go through three trials and achieve a final ruling, highlights the inefficiency of the judicial system.
Ma, who has built his career on claims of integrity, has seen his reputation and that of his administration damaged through corruption scandals involving KMT politicians, especially former government officials such as former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世) and former National Fire Agency director-general Huang Chi-min (黃季敏).
Now that Lee, who was in his second four-year term as Nantou County commissioner, has been accused of corruption, Ma needs to act on his promises and facilitate judicial reform while combating the so-called black-gold politics that are so deeply rooted in the KMT. A leader’s ability to build a clean and efficient government is just as important, if not more so, than ensuring his own integrity.