Wed, Jun 28, 2000 - Page 1 News List

Conflict of interest law targets officials

CORRUPTION The new law to deter influence peddling could affect up to 200,000 people and will leave offenders saddled with huge fines if they transgress

By Stephanie Low  /  STAFF REPORTER

The legislature yesterday passed a conflict of interest law to prevent public officials from using their posts and positions for personal gain. Offenders will face fines of up to NT$7.5 million.

"Of all laws, this one is the most direct and efficient for the extermination of interest peddling," said KMT legislator Jao Yung-ching (趙永清), who has been pushing for the law's passage for the last seven years.

Jao estimated that the number of affected government officials and people's representatives was around 20,000 people, but was nearer 200,000 when officials' associates are included.

According to the Public Officials Conflict of Interests Prevention Law (公職人員利益衝突迴避法), officials should take the initiative in avoiding handling government projects or cases which would allow them to profit themselves or their associates directly or indirectly. If they don't they will be ordered to do so.

The "associates" defined by the law include the public officials' spouses and dependents, close relatives, the trustees of public officials' or their spouses' properties; and businesses of which the public officials, their spouses, dependents or close relatives are the proprietor, chairman, supervisors or managers.

The new law stipulates "profit" as being financial or non-financial, and covers employment, promotion, transfer and so on in government agencies, public schools and or state-run enterprises.

As representatives of the public, officials cannot participate in the review board vote on bills from which they or others could benefit.

While public officials are prohibited from taking advantage of their positions for personal gain or to benefit their associates, their associates are also forbidden from peddling influence to relevant agencies or using other illegal methods for their own profit.

In addition, according to the law, public officials and their associates cannot maintain any business relationship with agencies where the officials are serving.

Jao said the law was the first piece of legislation that focuses on the conflict of interests of public officials.

While public officials are subject to more than 20 laws, they all lack any concrete definition of what "conflict of interests" actually means and the measures needed to guard against such irregularities, Jao said.

He said this was the major reason for the existence of overly close relationships between politicians and business and the improper trafficking of interests and money politics.

"The law's passage has a huge effect in terms of improving local politics, especially correcting the much-criticized phenomenon of `government officials profiting their own families' and `people's representatives being contracted for public construction projects,'" Jao said.

In the Legislative Yuan alone, Jao estimated, the law is applicable to at least half of the total of 221 incumbent legislators.

New Party legislator Feng Ting-kuo (馮定國) said the law will be helpful in upgrading the quality of lawmakers.

"Business people should stay where they are if they want to do business. If they want to come to the Legislative Yuan, they should become professional lawmakers," Feng said.

Feng said some legislators try to gain from being in office because they have spent millions of NT dollars on their election campaigns.

"They try to get their hands into everything just to earn the money back," Feng said.

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