Academia Sinica president Wong Chi-huey (翁啟惠) said that using public funds for personal reasons was not permissible, but added that he hoped the prosecutors would show some flexibility, especially toward “those who used the funds for research purposes.”
Wong said that many professors were educated in Western countries and did not know local regulations well enough. Others did not handle the reimbursements themselves, while some purchased computers, but claimed reimbursement for computer paraphernalia.
One National Taiwan University professor said the false receipts stemmed from a possibly flawed system, adding that often professors do not have time to apply for funds to make purchases through the normal channels.
For example, if experimental equipment is meant to last three years, but breaks down after one, it is complicated to apply for funding all over again.
Some academics then use false receipts to pay for new equipment so they can continue their research, “otherwise, it could be even worse if we don’t finish it by the deadline,” the professor said.
Meanwhile, the NSC yesterday issued a press release saying that cases in which research fees ended up in the professors’ pockets would not be tolerated.
However, the council added that if the professors used the funds for research matters, but failed to follow the appropriate procedure, being prosecuted for corruption seemed harsh and disproportionate.
The council said that because exploring the unknown is the essence of academic research, new ideas sometimes come suddenly and researchers may need to make quick adjustments to research equipment or procedures, causing them to deviate from the research project’s original plan.
If the researchers merely violated over-rigid procedures under those circumstances, the council said they should not be be charged with corruption.
It added that nurturing elite academics was not easy and that the demoralizing effect of being indicted under the Anti-Corruption Act (貪汙治罪條例), even if the professors are acquitted, could make it harder for the government to retain and attract such talent.