Taiwan’s malevolent, mafia-like subculture

By Chiu Hei-yuan 瞿海源  / 

Tue, Jul 23, 2013 - Page 8

In Transparency International’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer, indices of perceived corruption in Taiwan turned out to be among the highest among the sampled countries. The government responded immediately, saying that there must be something wrong with the unit that carried out the research and with the published data, and it instructed its diplomatic missions to immediately protest to Transparency International.

Let us set aside for the moment controversies and questions regarding the survey, and consider the matter purely with regard to the present reality in Taiwan.

Over the past two years, the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), which likes to present an image of clean government, has been embarrassed by implication in serious cases of corruption involving former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世) and former Taipei City councilor Lai Su-ju (賴素如), who was also director of Ma’s office as chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). To make matters worse, five legislators have been convicted of election-related corruption. These cases suggest that corruption in Taiwan is going from bad to worse.

Corruption has been around for a long time. It results from a poorly structured system and a malignant political subculture, but up till now no government has managed to effectively resolve this problem.

With regard to institutional and structural problems, the legislative and executive branches of the government have consistently failed to establish effective laws and systems for eliminating corruption. Three “sunshine laws” were drawn up for enactment a full decade ago, but they have been put on hold because of obstruction and distortion by entrenched interests — notably top policymakers in the KMT.

Even though the Act on Property Declaration by Public Servants (公職人員財產申報法) has been on the books for 20 years, it has hardly any effect at all. Hong Kwo-shing (洪國興), former director of the Control Yuan’s Department of Asset-Declaration by Public Functionaries, said that although about 60,000 civil servants declare their assets each year, adding up to nearly a million such declarations over the past 20 years, not a single corruption case has been uncovered as a result. Evidently this act, the first of the “sunshine laws,” has not cast any light on the shady world of corruption. The Political Donations Act (政治獻金法) has been just as ineffective.

All in all, those in power are neither willing nor able to establish an effective system for eliminating corruption, and this is the main reason it has not been possible to root out the problem.

This political subculture of corruption has been creeping and growing for a long time, flourishing in the judiciary, police force and educational establishment. The frightening thing is that this mafia-like subculture of corruption has come to be an integral part of Taiwan’s party and government systems. Lin and Lai are typical examples.

Lin was a legislator for 10 years, and he long ago wormed his way into the KMT’s power center. Over time, corruption became a habitual thing for Lin, but he is by no means the only one. Lai’s case is a little different, since she got her hands on power from the highest authorities suddenly, but she, too, quickly became entangled in a web of corruption.

Entanglement in corruption, and even devotion to it, happens all over the place. Transparency International’s finding that Taiwanese perceive the legislature and political parties to be seriously corrupt proves the existence of this malignant subculture of corruption in our country.

Chiu Hei-yuan is a research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Sociology.

Translated by Julian Clegg